The National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) was founded in 1949. For the first twenty-one years of the NWBA, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was the only university in the United States to provide an intercollegiate wheelchair basketball program. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, then University of Illinois wheelchair basketball coach Stan Labanowich and NWBA Commissioner and founder, Tim Nugent worked with other universities with the goal of establishing formal wheelchair sports competition for students with disabilities.
Their efforts helped create additional programs at Southern Illinois University, Southwest State University, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Wright State University. The first intercollegiate wheelchair basketball game was played on December 3, 1970 between Southwest State University and the University of Illinois.
In April 1977, the first National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament (NIWBT) was won by Southern Illinois University. It was during the meetings held at this tournament that Frank Basile, who was also the coach of the University of Illinois, made a motion to form an intercollegiate conference within the structure of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. Basile wanted to assure that these intercollegiate teams became recognized for what they were (truly intercollegiate athletic teams) and to assure that the team members were also treated like their student-athlete peers when it came to the perks and recognition’s of intercollegiate athletes. It was the intention of this conference to meet the legislative mandates for individuals with disabilities to be treated equally under the guise of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The following year, the Central Intercollegiate Conference was formed. The mission of the conference was simply to address the unique needs, interests, and abilities of the student-athlete while maintaining active membership in the NWBA.
In 2003, the Central Intercollegiate Conference became the Intercollegiate Division. This gave the intercollegiate teams more autonomy within the NWBA. Since the inception of the Intercollegiate Division, the following teams have been members of the division at one time or another: The University of Illinois; Southwest Minnesota State University; the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater; Wright State University; Southern Illinois University; Temple University; the University of Texas-Arlington; the University of Arizona; Edinboro University; Oklahoma State University; the University of Alabama; Auburn University; Arizona State University and the University of Missouri.
The NWBA Intercollegiate Division member institutions offer a distinct mix of academics and athletics that are only found in the United States. Daily in-season practices, full competitive schedules, strength and conditioning programs, off-season training, academic counseling and study sessions prepare the student-athlete for the rigors of life – balancing vocational responsibilities and athletic interests. Wheelchair basketball players from all over the world are coming to the United States to get an education and improve their skills. Players from Australia, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, Israel and Sweden have competed in the intercollegiate division. Furthermore, many current and former players have represented their country at the World Championships and Paralympic Games.