Baltimore will host the CIAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments beginning in 2021, the conference announced today after news broke yesterday afternoon on HBCU Gameday.
Charm City beat out incumbent host city Charlotte and Norfolk for the right to host one of the nation’s most popular college sporting events, which in recent years has grossed an average of $50 million in economic impact for the Queen City and businesses in its metropolitan footprint.
“This is an exciting time for the CIAA as we have an opportunity to bring the basketball tournament to a new market, moving it closer to many of our northern institutions who have travelled to Charlotte for more than a decade,” said CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams. “We are incredibly thankful for our partnership between the CIAA, the City of Charlotte and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA). Charlotte is still our home, we are still headquartered here. We have built life-long friendships with our partners and the community that goes beyond the tournament. We plan to continue this great relationship.”
Conference officials seemingly grew weary of the hotel price gouging, latent racism and bad financials of its deal with Charlotte and made good on a threat to move it to a city where Carolina-based fans may protest the new mileage required to get to everything but a CIAA basketball game, but where once-distant fans from the Philadelphia-DC-Richmond corridor may feel more at home.
The CIAA Tournament, like the Bayou Classic, has unfairly become an annual referendum on the value of HBCU athletics based upon fan attendance, corporate sponsorship dollars
Northern-based HBCU basketball fans have to learn lessons from the spoiled and coddled fans in North Carolina, who for 13 years enjoyed the high life of the CIAA Tournament social orbit, but who never drove the tournament’s brand as an actual athletic event despite most of the participating schools being in the State of North Carolina.
Those fans won’t be coming to Baltimore; they’ll say it will be too far to go, too cold to visit in February, and not as much fun as Charlotte. All of those things may be legitimate points for everyone below Petersburg, Va., but not for everyone above it. And for everyone who is all-in for a black college basketball tournament within a two-hour drive of several major cities, the onus is on them to actually fill the Royal Farms Arena to help the conference maintain its swag as a lightning rod for companies looking to sell products and goodwill to educated, affluent black people.
The City of Baltimore also has to learn lessons from Charlotte’s mistakes in handling the CIAA Tournament. The CIAA is looking for partnership in controlling hotel room rates, limiting opportunities for independent party promoters to throw CIAA-branded parties without licensing or permission, and to support in-arena engagement opportunities. Missing work in these areas will make the two-year deal with the CIAA a limited-run show.
And when they aren’t watching the games, they have to make the Inner Harbor and downtown social areas as lit as Charlotte annually appeared on Instagram and Facebook.
This will be the first time in more than a decade where the CIAA Tournament will reclaim the opportunity to build interest not only with geographically distant alumni of CIAA schools, but also with graduates former CIAA schools like Morgan State and Hampton, and SWAC alumni now living and working in the mid-Atlantic but who do not travel to Mississippi, Houston, Atlanta or New Orleans for major conference games and tournaments.
Moving to Baltimore gives the CIAA a chance to evolve as a national event for all HBCU students and alumni, something that the tournament lost in the glitz of its run in Charlotte. The new city may not give everyone the late winter getaway they want, but it will give the conference a chance to rediscover what its basketball tournament should have always been; a showcase of HBCU talent and black buying power that just happens to give way to decent bars and clubs once the games are over, and not the other way around.