CIAA Tournament leaving North Carolina for Baltimore

The postseason basketball tournament has been played in the Tar Heel State since 1994

Elizabeth City State's Shaquil Barber and Livingstone College's Darnell Turner play during the 2013 CIAA Basketball tournament at Spectrum Arena in Charlotte. The tournament, which has been played in North Carolina since 1994, will shift to Baltimore in 2021. (Adam Jennings / The Charlotte Observer via AP)

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association has held its popular postseason basketball tournament in North Carolina every year since 1994.

But that’s about to change.

Beginning in 2021, the event will move from the conference’s home base of Charlotte to Baltimore in a shift commissioner Jacqie McWilliams described as both bittersweet and necessary.

“Our headquarters are here in the city of Charlotte, so it’s easy for us to be here in the community and organize,” McWilliams said. “It’s less travel for us, less cost. But at the end of the day, surveys have shown that fans have wanted us to consider other sites.”

The CIAA’s Board of Directors announced last week that Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena has been chosen as the site of the conference’s men’s and women’s tournaments for 2021-23.

It was a decision the board’s chairman said was based on the strength of Baltimore’s bid, which included a $1.5 million contribution to the CIAA’s scholarship fund and other financial incentives.

But Fayetteville State chancellor Dr. James A. Anderson also suggested that Charlotte may have taken the nation’s oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities conference for granted after 13 years as the tournament’s host.

The Queen City’s unsuccessful bid included only two days of games scheduled for the 20,200-seat Spectrum Arena, with the majority of the event relegated to the older, smaller Bojangles Arena outside the uptown area.

It’s an arrangement that will be in effect for the remaining two years of the current contract.

“When I first came here as chancellor 10½ years ago, the tournament had the whole week at Spectrum,” Anderson said. “Now it’s been reduced to two days, Friday and Saturday.

“In fact, the ownership there did something I think was very unprofessional this year by scheduling two Charlotte Hornets games and that fake wrestling event during the week, never conferring with us or asking how we felt about it. They just took those days on their own.”

In addition to the problems with Spectrum Arena management, Anderson said that local hotels have become guilty of price gouging during tournament week while restaurants have begun charging an extra “CIAA tax,” factors that have contributed to a noticeable decline in attendance in recent years.

Those are things, Anderson said, that are “really is going to hurt the city.”

According to Laura White, director of communications for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, the CIAA tournament generated $28.8 million in direct spending and $50.5 million in economic impact to the city in 2018.

Although she said that CRVA officials are confident that they put together a competitive bid and that the loss of revenue will be made up through the scheduling of other events — including the 2020 Republican Convention — Charlotte City Councilman James Mitchell was critical of the city’s effort to keep the CIAA Tournament.

He called Charlotte’s bid “piss poor,” saying it was “a proposal to lose.”

“We submitted a bad bid,” Mitchell told Charlotte television station WSOC. “I hope the citizens are not mad at the CIAA. They did make a good business decision to go to Baltimore.”

Besides Baltimore and Charlotte, Norfolk, Va., was also considered as a potential tournament host.

CIAA commissioner McWilliams said that Baltimore’s bid stood out above the others because of its financial package, the ability to play all games in a main arena located within walking distance of hotels and entertainment areas and a guarantee that room rates will be priced fairly.

The latter is possible because the city owns several major downtown hotels.

McWilliams said that the city of Baltimore and state of Maryland have also pledged their support to help offset some of the costs involved with staging the weeklong tournament. That includes use of the Baltimore Convention Center for nonbasketball events such as the annual cheerleader competition and step shows.

“We can own the city in Baltimore during the end of February,” she said. “We used to here (in Charlotte), but there are other things that are compressing us here.”

Another benefit to the move is that for the first time in more than two decades, it will bring the tournament closer to the league’s northernmost members. Officials at Bowie State, the only conference school located in Maryland, are especially excited about the opportunity to serve as the event’s host.

“Nobody likes change, but there will be change,” McWilliams said. “What you can do is look forward to what opportunities we have for our members up north. This is a chance to engage new fans, new alumni in the Northeast market.”

This won’t be the first time the CIAA Tournament will be played in Baltimore. It was also held there in 1952. Among the other sites that have hosted the event, which debuted in 1946 in Washington, D.C., are Durham, Greensboro, Norfolk and Richmond, Va. The tournament’s most recent run in North Carolina has included stops in Winston-Salem and Raleigh before settling in Charlotte in 2006.

Although eight of the CIAA’s 12 current members are located in North Carolina, the dean of the conference’s men’s coaches isn’t upset about the tournament leaving the state.

“I’ve enjoyed it tremendously when it’s been in North Carolina all these years,” said Johnson C. Smith’s Steve Joyner Jr., whose teams have won three CIAA tournament titles. “I’ll miss it not being in Charlotte since it’s right down the street from our campus. But this gives the conference a chance to reset itself.”