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CIAA hopes move to Baltimore takes tournaments to the next level

The HBCU tournament week remains in Charlotte for two years, before moving for three years

Charlotte’s loss is Baltimore’s gain.

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) is moving its long-standing men’s and women’s basketball tournaments to Baltimore for three years, starting in 2021.

CIAA tournament week has provided Charlotte, North Carolina, with one of its largest annual tourism events in the 13 years the event has been held there, with a reported annual economic impact exceeding $50 million. The city of Baltimore and the conference are betting that fans and the economic impact travel farther north.

Starting in 2021, Baltimore gets to put its mark on the event for alumni and fans of the 13-school league. But CIAA commissioner Jacqie McWilliams doesn’t see that as a bad thing.

“There are a lot of fans and alumni in the Northeast, and they’ve been coming south for a long time,” McWilliams explained. “This provides an opportunity for them, it provides an opportunity to Baltimore and it will engage new fans.”

Baltimore got the nod over counterparts in Norfolk, Virginia, and Charlotte and officials there understand the tournament’s impact, knowing the boost it could give the city.

“The CIAA basketball tournament is more than a basketball championship; it’s a social event, a family reunion,” noted Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore. “There is a huge alumni base that lives in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region and north in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Boston, and that fan base wants to come down to this tournament.”

CIAA tournament week isn’t coming to new territory. It had previously been held in Washington, D.C.; Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia; and Raleigh and Greensboro, North Carolina, and was held once before in Baltimore, in 1951.

Bowie State University will serve as the tournament host, while the association will remain headquartered in Charlotte, which will hold its tournament there in 2019 and 2020. Baltimore games and activities will take place at Royal Farms Arena and the Baltimore Convention Center, which are within walking distance of several hotels.

“As president of the only CIAA school in Maryland, I am excited that the City of Baltimore has been selected as the new home for the CIAA Basketball Tournament,” said Aminta Breaux, Bowie State’s president, in a statement. “Baltimore has a rich history in basketball and sport. City officials, including Mayor Catherine Pugh, presented a strong, comprehensive plan to support CIAA teams and welcome our fans to the city. The Conference Board is looking forward to introducing sports enthusiasts throughout the Mid-Atlantic corridor to the CIAA tournament experience.”

With the opportunity to attract new fans, Baltimore officials are hoping to “refresh the brand” and grow a following that’s been loyal since the CIAA’s founding in 1912 and once included Morgan State University, which outgrew the CIAA and now plays in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

With the tournament happening between the NFL and MLB schedules, the opportunity is there for CIAA officials to “own the town” for that time frame.

There’s much work to be done, but for now, there’s exuberance.

“We are thrilled that the CIAA organization has recognized what we all know very well — Baltimore is a city of unsurpassed hospitality and civic and cultural amenities that make it a destination for hundreds of thousands of visitors annually,” a statement from Pugh read. “We look forward to welcoming the CIAA, its players and many fans, and to hosting these major tournaments in a way that demonstrates what a truly great city we are, and what a great decision this will be for all.”

CIAA schools are Bowie State, Chowan, Claflin, Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, Johnson C. Smith, Lincoln, Saint Augustine’s, Shaw, Virginia State, Virginia Union and Winston-Salem State universities and Livingstone College.

Mark W. Wright is a Charlotte-based sports journalist and documentarian.