HBCU DIGEST: After surviving Charlotte, the CIAA finds real love in Charm City

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s annual basketball tournament went off, from all outside appearances, without a hitch this past week in Baltimore City. Everyone who said they weren’t coming didn’t show up in support of the vibes associated with Charlotte. Everyone who gave it a shot seemed pleasantly surprised, and everyone who commits annually to the tournament experience, regardless of where it is held, will happily return next year. 

If you were assigning responsibility for the success of the Charm City – Queen City comparisons, the first prize winner goes to the CIAA and its council of presidents. The conference executed a vision for the gameday experience and community synergy that went off without a rise in complaints or questions. You didn’t hear about crime, price gouging, racist behavior, business owners leaving for the week, long lines, or snarled traffic. 

Everything about a metropolitan, nationally-relevant basketball tournament that worked well in Baltimore went off in part because CIAA presidents and chancellors did a fantastic job as ambassadors for the event and new locale. 

The second prize winner goes to Baltimore City and its community members. While Charlotte was known for the annual opportunity to create great memories for students and alumni, it was equally known for the hell it created for out-of-towners at the hands of city dwellers. There was no CIAA Tax in Baltimore, no issues with police harassment, no businesses unwelcoming to partygoers and money spenders; the city was glad to have the tourism and the vibe. 

The CIAA delivered for a majority Black city seeking post-pandemic tourism in the springtime lull between the end of the NFL season and Major League Baseball’s opening day. The city cooperated with local media offering favorable coverage of the event and its people and a police force who protected and served. And before tournament goers could even finish their breakfasts at the Pratt Street Miss Shirley’s on Championship Saturday, city tourism officials were already floating the idea of extending the CIAA love thang for an additional three years

The final prize goes to Charlotte and the Mecklenburg County leadership for one of the greatest bag fumbles in HBCU history. For everything that was broken and dysfunctional about the CIAA-Charlotte relationship, both sides still wanted it. But in the end, you still got quotes like this from Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority President Tom Murray in 2019

In 2018, the event alone made a $50.5 million economic impact on the city. It brought $12 million in labor wages, and more than 400 jobs.

“We didn’t want to lose the event, but we will continue to do well as a community,” Murray says

Murray says in 2018, local hotels and restaurants saw a $7 billion impact overall. $50.5 million came from the CIAA event.

“$50 million versus $7 billion,” Murray says. “You have to make sure you keep that in perspective.”

If Charlotte wants the CIAA back, the price tag just went up. And this time, the CIAA has the luxury of leverage in choosing between an abusive partner or a soulmate.

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