For this year's State of the Association session at the NAIA Convention, NAIA President and CEO Jim Carr reported out on the NAIA's future, and he also led a panel discussion of NAIA member representatives to discuss current issues.
"The NAIA is alive and well," Carr said. "It truly is 'Our Time' to press forward and conduct intercollegiate athletics 'Our Way,' because the NAIA Way is the right way. We should be celebrating our differences and more importantly, talking actively about leveraging the uniqueness and charm of NAIA athletics-the straight-forward approach that creates a culture where every student-athlete matters, where we build people of character and leaders emerge to go out and make the world a better place. We are positioned well and our future is bright."
Carr also noted that many NAIA members had looked at other options and decided the NAIA was the best fit for their institution.
"In a time when institutions at all levels of intercollegiate athletics are exploring options, many in this room have explored and have decided the NAIA is the right place for them. They appreciate how NAIA rules provide recruiting advantages, how the use of JV teams can help drive enrollment, and how they can compete for championships at a fraction of the cost of other alternatives," Carr said.
Carr then engaged the panel in dialogue on several different issues, from presidential leadership to conference engagement, the NAIA Eligibility Center and the value of the NAIA.
The members of the panel were: Bruce Parker, director of athletics at Carroll College; John Sullivan, president of the Appalachian Athletic Conference; Les Purce, president of Evergreen State College; and Rita Rice Morris, president of Shawnee State University. Paul Sadler, faculty athletics representative at Wayland Baptist University, was unable to participate because of a death in the family.
Purce and Morris both mentioned the rise in presidential leadership in the Association.
"I think one of the most effective changes in the NAIA has been the involvement of presidents at the national level and at the conference level," Purce said, noting that presidents will have to continue to be willing to commit their time and effort to the Association. "It can be difficult, with so many different organizations pulling us in different directions. But presidents actually taking the time to be involved is crucial."
Several members of the panel noted that increased involvement of conference commissioners and increasing the focus on conference involvement in the Association also had been important.
"Our focus needs to be on continuing to strengthen our conferences," Sullivan said. "We've seen tremendous changes and improvements in the strength of our conferences. We still have a ways to go to educate all of our presidents on the need for strong conferences and strong commissioners."
In the discussion on the NAIA Eligibility Center, Parker noted that there had been a bit of a surprise that it had been such an effective marketing tool for the Association.
"We have registered student-athletes now in all 50 states and in 140 different countries," he said. "All of our experiences with it haven't been perfect, but the responsiveness of the eligibility center staff has been wonderful."
Carr's closing question asked each member of the panel to comment on the value of the NAIA.
"The NAIA matches who we are (at Shawnee State University)," Morris said. "We're about students and student success. We're about access and setting standards and achieving them. And there is great momentum with the NAIA right now."
Purce noted that the NAIA fit with Evergreen's mission as well. "We say we offer an Ivy League education at a public school price," he said. "My message every year to the student-athletes is that you are here for an education. You have this gift (with athletics), but that's not why you're here. At Evergreen, you have an opportunity to use your gift and get an education. For us, the NAIA is perfectly aligned with the ideas we have about character and a high-quality education."
Carr closed the State of the Association with a challenge to the membership.
"Here is my challenge to you. When you leave this Convention, tell someone why you value the NAIA. It's important for all of us to think actively about it and to articulate what makes the NAIA different. Of course, no organization is free from challenges, and please know we will continue to work on them. But the NAIA does athletics the right way. And it is 'Our Time' to tell anybody who will listen that we have a terrific story to tell. There is no better place for student-athletes to grow than at an NAIA institution. And there is no better place for an institution that wants to play at a high level, focus on character and do it at a reasonable price."