All Roads Lead to Success: Navigating College Athletics Beyond NCAA Division I

Updated on Jan 30, 2024

All Roads Lead to Success: Navigating College Athletics Beyond NCAA Division I

On November 30th, Honest Game hosted a webinar titled, “Rethinking Athletic Success: Beyond the DI or Bust Mentality”. This dynamic conversation was hosted by Courtney Rickard, Director of Academics and Compliance at Honest Game and co-sponsored by the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA). Through an in-depth conversation with two expert speakers – Jeff Degraw, Head Men’s and Women’s Track & Field Coach at Joliet Junior College and Ted Albert, Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Indiana Tech – a number of key insights were shared about all the pathways available to student-athletes pursuing their collegiate dreams. 


Finding Athletic Success and Academic Support at the Junior College and NAIA Levels

The dialogue commenced with a personal touch from Courtney, who recounted her exposure to the NCAA Division I (DI) or bust mentality and her realization, upon joining Honest Game, of the myriad opportunities accessible to student-athletes across five distinctive pathways – NAIA, NCAA DI, NCAA DII, NCAA DIII, or junior college (NJCAA and CCCAA).Athletic College Division StatsBoth coaches shared their profound journeys into coaching and their perspectives on the balance of student-athlete development. Coach Degraw spotlighted the transformative journey of an underestimated high school athlete turned championship college runner, emphasizing the significance of belief and opportunity in achieving success. 

Coach Albert stressed the critical relationship between academic and athletic triumphs. There must be joy and support that helps athletes succeed in life beyond the field. “We can’t preach academics if we’re not going to support academics,” he said. From academic advisors to personal academic monitoring to tutoring resources, NAIA and junior college institutions ensure a balance between athletic pursuits and academic growth.

Misconceptions, Misnomers, and Myths

Both coaches took the opportunity to address the common misconceptions surrounding collegiate athletics outside the NCAA DI realm. 

They debunked the belief that NAIA and junior colleges offer lesser competition, stressing the abundant opportunities available for athletes in these leagues, as well as the high level of entertainment for fans. Coach Degraw championed the inclusivity of junior colleges, which encourage multi-sport participation—a rarity in the NCAA. “We don’t want to make kids choose… Play everything if you can.” Additionally, they highlighted lesser-known but robust opportunities for scholarship in junior colleges and the NAIA.

Both coaches also spent a lot of time talking about their student-athletes as people, as individuals developing and having fun playing sports, not just workers stuck in a strict and rigid schedule. “If you put too much emphasis [on just athletics], that’s when it becomes a job and they get burned out,” said Degraw. 

Opportunity and A Place for Everyone

The webinar concluded with invaluable advice to high school athletes, urging them to embrace proactive communication with coaches and dispelling the notion that one must settle due to a lack of visibility during recruitment. Success in athletics knows no bounds and transcends divisions, echoing Honest Game’s commitment to fostering opportunities for all student-athletes.

The dynamic, hour-long chat highlighted the diverse array of opportunities available to student-athletes beyond the confines of just NCAA DI. There are so many opportunities and versions of success out there that so many students, families, and schools are unaware of. 


Every athlete deserves a chance to pursue their dreams to shine both on and off the field. Coach Degraw underscored this powerful idea through the inclusive nature of collegiate athletics in NAIA and junior college. “Everyone has a place at the next level. If you want to play, there’s a place for you.”

Interested to learn more? Fill out the form below to watch the complete webinar: