Why the CIAA Tournament coming to Baltimore is a big deal

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Bowie State University men’s basketball beat Fayetteville State University to win the 2017 CIAA Championship. Photo courtesy Bowie State University.

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, a collegiate athletic conference comprised of historically black Division II schools, is leaving its annual tournament home of Charlotte behind for Baltimore beginning in 2021, bringing with it a week-long spell of parties, reunions and other activities to fill up the doldrums of February.

Conference officials and Visit Baltimore announced the move, which had already been reported Monday, at a presser today that featured a marching band and drumline from Bowie State, the host school from 2021-2023, and elected officials speaking at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum downtown.

“From the outset, when we began to vet the different bids that we received, it was pretty clear that Baltimore had done its homework,” said James Anderson, the CIAA’s board chair and chancellor of member school Fayetteville State University. “And it was really clear that Baltimore was ready to assume the mantle of being a host city here.”

But the tournament does more than bring together the men’s and women’s squads from 13 institutions, most of them historically black colleges and universities in Virginia and North Carolina. (Bowie State notably won the 2017 men’s championship.)

It also brings a week full of parties, many of them unaffiliated with the CIAA itself. Some of them are star-studded. The Charlotte Observer threw together a list last year dedicated just to celebs’ parties, featuring the likes of rappers Lil Wayne, Cardi B, 21 Savage and others, and NFL players Odell Beckham Jr. and (retired) Michael Vick.

In all, per this thorough 2018 calendar from Charlotte Magazine, there were around 75 events linked to the 2018 CIAA Tournament alone, from career fairs and teen summits to fashion shows and a bevy of parties running from afternoon to the early morning.

City officials predict it’ll bring up to 25,000 tourists each day to Baltimore and fill up to 10,000 hotel rooms a night, with an overall economic impact of $50 million.

Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, noted this morning that the final week of February is usually particularly dead in terms of tourism.

“Business is not there,” he said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for the hospitality and tourism community, our hotels… our restaurant community, retail and more. We’re asking them to roll out the red carpet.”

And beyond the money and the parties and the buzz, there’s added value in participating in a tradition, CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams said today. She noted in this 2017 interview with The Undefeated that the CIAA was among the oldest conferences in the country at 105 (now 107) years, and that the men’s and women’s tournaments have been happening for more than seven and four decades, respectively.

“You get seven days to enjoy and experience what CIAA is about—which is tradition, leadership and community,” she said. “Everything we do surrounding this event we have an engagement component–whether it’s a sponsor, student, alumni, board member or CIAA staff. We get them to engage in that ‘TLC.'”

McWilliams said today that CIAA officials “we will be spending a lot of time here in Baltimore” in preparation for 2021.

And now we wait. The Spectrum Center in Charlotte, home to the CIAA’s nationally buzzworthy basketball tournaments for the last 13 years, will still play host for two more, but then it’s Royal Farms Arena’s turn.

Ethan McLeod
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