With a new look, new attitude and new challenges, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s men and women’s basketball tournaments opened this week in Charlotte, N.C., despite a controversy that threatened to move the traditional HBCU event away from the city.
The CIAA and city of Charlotte officials will brace for up to 200,000 fans to stream into the city, with most arriving Thursday and Friday, for one of the nation’s largest indoor African-American-centered events. The venue for the first two days of action is Bojangles’ Coliseum, which seats more than 8,000. The final three days, through Saturday, will be staged at the 20,200-seat Spectrum Center, formerly Time Warner Cable Arena, home of the Charlotte Hornets.
But most visitors to the city won’t see a minute of basketball action. During its 70-plus year run, the CIAA tournament has become a festival of parties, concerts, comedy shows, networking forums and family-oriented fun. Tournament-related events contribute $50 million to $60 million to the local economy, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.
That is why city officials breathed a huge sigh of relief in September when the CIAA board of directors, in consultation with CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams, decided the event would return to Charlotte despite pressure to move the tournament out of state in protest of North Carolina’s controversial public accommodations law, known as House Bill 2.
On opening night, perhaps no one was happier than Stephen Joyner Sr., coach of the hometown Johnson C. Smith Golden Bulls, whose team blew out in-state rival Elizabeth City State 84-66 in Tuesday’s final contest.
“We’re happy to be back in Charlotte,” Joyner said. We almost didn’t have the tournament here. And there are some things we have to work on going forward.”
Joyner was pleased with the confines of the smaller arena for the first two nights – a cost-cutting measure by the CIAA — compared with playing the early round games in cavernous Spectrum Center, before most fans have arrived for the semifinals and finals.
“Bojangles’ is an outstanding arena,” Joyner said. “The venue is laid out real nice. It’s a very appropriate venue for a college basketball game.
“Our leadership felt we should come over here for the first two nights. I’m sure there were some financial concerns in that decision. I’m happy that we could come to a venue like Bojangles’.
The venue clearly provided mostly floor-level seating for the 2,000 or so fans who had arrived by the night’s final game, a predominantly J.C. Smith crowd, no doubt thankful for only having to make a short ride to the arena.
That choice was almost snatched away from them.
While keeping the basketball tournament in North Carolina, the CIAA, the nation’s oldest African-American athletic league, moved eight other league events – from tennis to track and field – to other states for 2017 because of House Bill 2, which is seen as an affront to LGBT rights.
Meanwhile, the location of the 2018 CIAA Tournament faces some uncertainty, as North Carolina’s newly elected Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper wrestles with a Republican-dominated legislature to repeal the law, which mandates that transgender individuals use bathroom of the gender on their birth certificates – not bathrooms of the gender that they identify with.
CIAA officials stressed that the 2017 tournament remained in Charlotte “due to time constraints, particularly as they relate to contractual obligations.”
The CIAA also stressed that the league “does not support laws which prevent communities from effectively protecting student-athletes and fans.”
Eight of the league’s 12 schools are in North Carolina.
HB2 has cost North Carolina as much as $5 billion in lost business, athletic and entertainment events, facilities and federal funding, according to a UCLA study. An early casualty was the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, played last weekend in New Orleans, after having been relocated from Charlotte.
CIAA schools faced losing a combined $6 million combined, and possibly more, if the tournament moved from Charlotte.
Fayetteville State University chancellor James Anderson said in September that his school could lose as much as $1 million because of potential forfeits of contracts associated with school-sponsored events, according to The Fayetteville Observer.
The greater Raleigh area, home to CIAA members Shaw and Saint Augustine’s Universities, has lost $30 million to $40 million with the departures of NCAA and ACC events.