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The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) traces its roots to the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball. The NAIB was established on March 10, 1940 in Kansas City, Missouri. Currently, the headquarters are located in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, Kansas.

The association got its start three years after a men's basketball tournament was held in Kansas City. The tournament was started by Dr. James Naismith and others who wanted to establish a forum for small colleges and universities to determine a national basketball champion. The original eight-team tournament expanded to 32 teams in 1938.

In 1948, the NAIB became the first national organization to open their intercollegiate postseason to African-American student-athletes.

In 1952, the NAIB was transformed into the NAIA, and with that came the sponsorship of additional sports. The NAIA began sponsoring intercollegiate championships for women in 1980, the first co-ed national athletics association to do so. The NAIB/NAIA was formed on the grounds that the older, larger NCAA was predominantly oriented toward larger institutions, particularly those which played "big time" college football. When the NCAA created Division II and Division III in 1973, the NAIA started losing members to the NCAA, and the pace has accelerated since 1995. As of 2006, the NAIA is the home of 282 member institutions.

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