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Conversation with Dawn Harmon

December 23, 2003 Columns No Comments

A Conversation with the NAIA’s Dawn Harmon

by Adam Shandler

I recently did a Google search for NAIA statistical leaders. The search came back asking if I meant NCAA statistical leaders instead. Even my spell check wants to make the change.

There’s another league out there, and it’s called the NAIA. You’ve heard of it, even though you may not be able to name a single player on Mountain State (WV) (the league’s top-ranked team) or Georgetown (KY) College (which almost upset Pitt last week). NAIA teams, despite their successes, don’t make headlines. Often times, they don’t receive any press at all. But recent matchups against traditionally solid Division I NCAA teams has helped pull back a curtain on this mysterious “other league.”

The NAIA, in all its forms and incarnations, actually has a broader history than the more beloved and camera-happy NCAA. One of the league founders is the father of the game, Dr. James Naismith. The NAIA also birthed the careers of some of the most legendary names in the game, such as Willis Reed, Scottie Pippen, His Royal Badness Dennis Rodman, and even the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden.

There was a time when a graduate of an NAIA program might squeak onto an NBA roster via the late rounds of the draft or a free agent tryout. However, the recent focus on high school players and players from overseas has spackled the mouse hole shut for quality NAIA players who hope to play in the pros. Perhaps you won’t hear Marshall Williams’s name called at the NBA draft in June. (He’s the guy that threw down 25 for GC against Pitt.) And maybe you’re not asking yourself if Oklahoma Baptist coach Doug Tolin is going to jump elsewhere after guiding the Bison to three straight trips to the NAIA tournament. But according to my chat with Dawn Harmon, Sports Info Director of the NAIA, that’s not what the league is about. The NAIA is a forum of college sports where basketball is played, coached and watched for…wait, let me see if I read this right…the love of the game? How novel…*

*Sarcasm intended.

Adam Shandler: What is the NAIA and when did it begin play?

Dawn Harmon: The NAIA is a collegiate governing body that has grown to encompass 23 national championships for over 300 member institutions in the United States and Canada. Originated in 1937 as a small college basketball tournament, it developed into the NAIB (National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball) in 1940.

The tournament was the brainchild of Emil S. Liston, Dr. James Naismith, Frank Cramer, and a group of Kansas City business leaders who wanted to provide Kansas City-area fans with exciting amateur competition and to provide a framework for small colleges and universities to determine a national basketball champion.

AS: What are some of the distinct differences between the modern versions of the NCAA and NAIA?

DH: The two associations are similar in the fact that each association sponsors national championship opportunities, however the NAIA is focused on the entire experience for the student-athlete and the development of every student-athlete. The NAIA is also a self-governing association – in other words, member institutions and various committees create policy and procedure.

At the NAIA level – kids are playing for the pure love of the game. Few NAIA members offer true full rides, so most kids aren’t there for the money. The commercialism is also taken out of the game.

AS: Tell me a little about NAIA schools. What makes a good member?

DH: NAIA member institutions are predominately small, private institutions, however the NAIA does have larger state schools as members. No minimum number of sports need to be sponsored in order to join membership.

AS: What are some of the challenges – or advantages – in marketing such a league?

DH: Media attention is always thin since the money for ads, etc, is not as plentiful as it is with NCAA schools.

AS: I understand that NAIA basketball is broken down into two divisions. What is the difference between those divisions?

DH: The NAIA has two divisions for basketball only. It is an institutional decision of which division to be a part. The major difference is the amount of financial aid. The upper limit for institutional aid for [NAIA] Division I Basketball is 11 while Division II is six.

AS: What are some of the big teams to watch out for this year?

DH: Georgetown College (Ky.) is coming off a near upset of Pitt and Lubbock Christian University (Texas) defeated Rhode Island. Mountain State University (W.Va.) is also off to a good start.

Beyond The NAIA

A partial list of coaches and players that cut their teeth with programs that are or were NAIA programs at one time:


John Chaney: Coach at Bethune-Cookman, now head coach at Temple University
Del Harris: Played at Hanover College (Ind.), then was head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers
Gene Keady: Coach and player at Kansas Wesleyan University, now head coach at Purdue
Pete Meyers: Played at Arkansas-Little Rock; was an assistant coach for the Chicago Bulls
John Wooden: Coach at Indiana State University, now Hall-of-Fame former coach at UCLA


Nate Archibald: Played at Alcorn State (Miss.), then for the Boston Celtics
Dick Barnett: Played at Tennessee A & I, then for the New York Knicks
Elgin Baylor: Played at College of Idaho; then for the Los Angeles Lakers,
Zelmo Beaty: Played at Prairie View A&M University then played for both San Francisco and the Utah Jazz
M.L. Carr: Played at Guilford College (N.C.), then for the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics
World B. Free: Played at Guilford College (N.C.), then for the Philadelphia 76’ers/Houston Rockets
Bob Love: Played at Southern-BR (La.), then for the Chicago Bulls and Baltimore Bullets
Rick Mahorn: Played at Hampton Institute (Va.) then played for Detroit and Philadelphia
Earl Monroe: Played at Winston-Salem (N.C.) (1965), then for the Washington Bullets and New York Knicks
Scottie Pippen: Played at Central Arkansas University, then for the Chicago Bulls, Portland Trailblazers
Terry Porter: Played at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (1983-84), then for the Portland Trailblazers
Willis Reed: Played at Grambling State University (La.) (1961-64), then for the New York Knicks
Dennis Rodman: Played at Southeastern Oklahoma State University (1985-86) then played for several NBA championship teams
Jack Sikma: Played at Illinois Wesleyan (1975-77), then played for the Seattle Supersonics and Milwaukee Bucks

For more on the NAIA, visit www.naia.org.


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