The Five-Stage Process of Legitimacy Building Within a Sport Interest Association

Dylan P. Williams – University of Alabama
Chad Seifried – Louisiana State University
Brian P. Soebbing – University of Alberta


The present study outlines a five-stage legitimacy process model (i.e., conception to decline) for interest-associations over a prospective life cycle. Our stages suggest: 1) internal and external legitimacy are emphasized differently through an interest-association’s life cycle; 2) internal and external legitimacy can be enhanced by specific strategic actions; and 3) overemphasis on external legitimacy can lead an interest-association toward decline. The National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) was selected and the historical method was employed to examine a variety of primary and secondary documents to help build the legitimacy process model. This work suggests the NAIA (1940-1973) sought internal and external legitimacy through various institutional strategies that established: 1) an early disconnection with the NCAA; 2) partnerships with small colleges, historically black institutions, and Canadian schools; 3) a re-conception of postseason play and expansion of services provided (i.e., sports); and 4) engagement with other amateur sport organizations.