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Friday, June 14, 2024

NAIA Tournament opened up pathway for HBCU basketball

When people think March Madness, the NAIA Tournament is an afterthought, if one at all. But this small college basketball tournament gave a big lift to HBCUs in the mid-1950s when the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics allowed them to participate in its national tournament.

Central State College (now University) director of athletics Mack Green led an effort by 35 negro colleges (the term HBCU did not emerge until 1964) to gain entry to the NAIA Tournament, which featured many teams now in Division I. The 35 schools which held NAIA membership and were eligible were:

CIAA — Hampton, Howard, Morgan State, ,North Carolina A&T, North Carolina College, Virginia State, Virginia Union and West Virginia State
SIAC — Bethune Cookman, Clark College, Fisk, Florida A&M, Fort Valley State, Knoxville, LeMoyne, Morehouse, Morris Brown, SC State and Xavier
Midwestern Association — Kentucky State, Lincoln, Missouri, Texas Southern, Tennessee State, (Huston) Tillotson and Grambling State
SWAC — Arkansas State (UAPB), Bishop College, Langston University, Prairie View, Southern and Texas College
Southeastern Athletic Conference — Savannah State
South Central Conference — Philander Smith
Eastern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference — Fayetteville State

It was determined that eight top teams would participate in a three-day tournament in Nashville on the campus of Fisk University from Feb. 26 through Feb. 28. The winner would become the defacto Negro National Champion and take up the NAIA bid. There had been multiple tournaments to choose a champion from black colleges across the nation previously, but none of them offered a shot at a tournament against white schools.

Bethune-Cookman went against Florida A&M, North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central) took on Tennessee A&I (now Tennessee State), Southern matched up against Lincoln (MO) and Virginia State took on Philander Smith.

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NAIA Tournament opened up pathway for HBCU basketball

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