Founded in 1971, the Heart of America Athletic Conference (Heart) marked its 50th year during the 2020-21 season. All 14 conference schools are members of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
Three schools have been members of the conference since its inception - Baker University, Graceland University and Missouri Valley College.
In 1971, College of Emporia (Kan.), Ottawa (Kan.) University, Tarkio (Mo.) College and William Jewell College were members, but they have since withdrawn from the conference. College of Emporia closed in 1974. Ottawa joined the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) in 1982, Tarkio closed in the spring of 1991 and William Jewell left at the conclusion of the 2010-11 school year to join the ranks of NCAA Div. II. Central Methodist University, also an original member in 1971, withdrew from the conference in 1986, but was reinstated as a member in 1991.
Culver-Stockton College and MidAmerica Nazarene University became members in 1980. Evangel University joined in 1987 while Benedictine joined in 1991 when Central Methodist was reinstated. Lindenwood University began competing in the conference in 1996 but concluded their affiliation at the conclusion of the 2010-11 school year as they began their transition to NCAA Div. II status. Avila University began competing in all sports but football during the 2000-01 season and fielded its first football team ever in 2001. Peru State College joined the storied conference as they began full competition during the 2011-12 academic year.
The conference has continued to expand with the total number of teams growing to 13 when competition began for the 2018-19 school year. The 2015-16 season saw Grand View University and William Penn begin full membership in the Heart, while Clarke University and Mount Mercy University joined the competition for the 2016-17 seasons. The most recent addition to the conference was Park University, who effectively became a member in the 2020-21 season, bringing the conference to 14 institutions.
The commissioner of the conference is Lori Thomas, who was named commissioner prior to the 2014-15 school year, and is the first female commissioner in the history of the NAIA.
Present Members (info updated heading into 2020-21 season)
School - Location - Membership - Years
Baker University - Baldwin City, KS - 1971-current
Benedictine College - Atchison, KS - 1991-current
Central Methodist University - Fayette, MO - 1971-86, 91-current
Culver-Stockton College - Canton, MO - 1980- current
Evangel University - Springfield, MO - 1987-current
Graceland University - Lamoni, IA - 1971-current
Grand View University - Des Moines, Iowa - 2015-current
MidAmerica Nazarene University - Olathe, KS - 1980-current
Missouri Valley College - Marshall, MO - 1971-current
Park University - Parkville, MO - 2020-current
Peru State College - Peru, NE - 2011-current
William Penn University - Oskaloosa, Iowa - 2015-current
Clarke University - Dubuque, Iowa - 2016-current
Mount Mercy University - Cedar Rapids, Iowa - 2016-current
Avila University - Kansas City, MO - 2000-18 (withdrew)- 18
Lindenwood University - St. Charles, MO - 1996-2011 (withdrew) - 12
William Jewell College - Liberty, MO - 1971-2011 (withdrew) - 38
College of Emporia - Emporia, KS - 1971-74 (closed) - 4
Ottawa University - Ottawa, KS - 1971-82 (withdrew) - 12
Tarkio College - Tarkio, MO - 1971-91 (closed) - 21