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Participating as an Unattached Athlete

September 25, 2013
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*The unattached criteria has changed since this brief was posted. For all participation after May 1, 2017, please refer to the brief titled "New Legislation: Unattached Criteria."

Participating as an Unattached Athlete

Definition of an Unattached Athlete
The various implications of "unattached" participation has long been a topic of discussion in the Association. NAIA Bylaws Article V, Section A states, "The eligibility rules which follow apply to all students representing their institution in any manner (scrimmages, intercollegiate, etc.) against competitors not directly identified with the institution in any sport recognized by the NAIA." In 2004 the National Eligibility Committee issued an official interpretation clarifying what it means to "represent" an NAIA institution in competition. This official interpretation was later codified by membership as Exception 2 to NAIA Bylaws Article V, Section B, Item 18.

The unattached athlete definition originally evolved to answer questions regarding those sports such as wrestling and track & field where open competitions regularly take place throughout the season. In many instances a student would not be eligible or choose not to participate for the NAIA institution but could enter these open events on their own. The definition has further evolved to encompass those teams that wish to play together during the year in off-season tournaments or contests but do not wish to represent their institutions or jeopardize their eligibility by competing.

In short, there are seven criteria that MUST be met for a student identified with an NAIA member institution to be considered "unattached." A student identified at an NAIA member instititution who meets these criteria  will not be charged a season of competition, the contests will not count toward the institution's scheduling limits and the institution does not run the risk of allowing the participation be an ineligible athlete.

The seven criteria are:

  1. A coach or representative of the athletics department cannot enter the student(s) in the event;
  2. The institution or its representative cannot provide transportation to the event, from the event, or at the event;
  3. The institution or its representative cannot provide meals or housing to the student(s) with regard to the event;
  4. The student(s) cannot wear an institutional uniform nor use the institution's name in the event;
  5. Student(s) competing "unattached" are not covered by institutional athletic insurance;
  6. Student(s) must be made aware of the restriction of no athletic insurance;
  7. The competition and participation must conform to NAIA amateur status regulations. 

If any one of these seven criteria is not met then a student will be charged a season of competition, the contests will count toward the team's scheduling limits and a possible eligibility violation may have occurred.  A worksheet has been developed to aid athletics departments with ensuring proper application of the unattached rules:

Unattached Competition Worksheet

Please note, if a coach organizes any competition while the student maintains unattached status a practice has still occurred under Article I, Section F, item 6 of the NAIA Bylaws.

Please call the National Office if you have any questions regarding unattached competition.