NAIA completes shift back in Kansas City area

Tuesday, July 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) _ The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics officially opened up shop in its new digs Monday, returning to the area it left in 1993 when it moved to Tulsa, Okla., from Kansas City, Mo.

``We moved in unofficially last week, but today is our first day of business out here,'' said Jim Carr, the NAIA's chief operating officer.

The collegiate sports organization representing 332 smaller colleges and universities will operate for the next two years out of office space being provided free-of-charge by Honeywell Corp. at its complex in suburban Kansas City, near the intersection of Kansas 10 and Kansas 7.

The NAIA is planning its own new building to be located in the Cedar Creek complex two or three miles to the west along Kansas 10, a heavily traveled route linking Lawrence and the southern metro Kansas City area.

``We hope to break ground in the late fall or early spring,'' said Carr. ``We're working on our capital campaign, we need a certain amount of money before we start. We hope to be in the new building 18 to 24 months from today.''

The opening of the new office is a homecoming for the organization, but not for any of the 22 employees working there. Carr said his secretary had worked in the NAIA's Kansas City office before the move to Tulsa, but decided to retire rather than return.

Kansas City had been the home of the NAIA's men's basketball tournament since 1937, when the organization called itself the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball, and to the NAIA itself after it moved its headquarters from Los Angeles in 1957.

The announcement in 1992 that the NAIA would pull up stakes the following year stunned business and political leaders in Kansas City, a setback followed later by the departure of the larger National Collegiate Athletic Association from Overland Park, another Kansas City suburb, for Indianapolis.

The NAIA tournament had been a fixture in Kansas City for so long that it had become part of the local culture. The games were played first at Municipal Auditorium, switching later to the larger Kemper Arena.

Many people drawn to the tournament would pack a lunch and watch basketball from 8 a.m., when the first games began in the early rounds, until the last ball bounced around midnight. Occasionally they'd get to see players from little-known schools who went on to make names for themselves in pro basketball, Dennis Rodman among them.

But the NAIA, with peak of around 500 members in the 1970s, saw a steady erosion of membership in the 1980s and early 1990 as more and more small colleges switched to the NCAA to get a share of the money and benefits available because of that organization's billion dollar television contract with CBS.

Tulsa came up with the incentives that convinced the NAIA to move. And while the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and local businesses got behind the NAIA basketball tournament, it never caught on there. It moved to three different locations during the Tulsa years _ from the Mabee Center at Oral Roberts University to the Reynolds Center at the University of Tulsa to the Tulsa Convention Center.

Faced with the flagging attendance for its tournament, the NAIA started looking around again, and 19 cities, including Tulsa, expressed interest. Olathe, a rapidly growing suburban city of about 95,000, won out over the other two finalists _ Fort Wayne, Ind., and the St. Louis suburb of O'Fallon, Mo.

Incentives that helped the Olathe bid, besides the free office space from Honeywell, included a $1 million discount on the six-acre site for the new headquarters and an adjacent character development center, $1 million over 10 years from the city through a hotel tax increase and Chamber of Commerce assistance for the drive to raise capital for the project.

Carr said the NAIA is still determining exactly where next season's Division I men's basketball tournament will held ``but it will be here in the Kansas City area, assuming we can get the final details worked out.''

He said eventually the organization plans to hold at least one championship event in the area in each season _ fall, winter and spring _ ``preferably in Olathe.''