Lucky 13: Why the CIAA (Still) Matters in 2018

This is the 13th year of the CIAA Tournament being held in Charlotte, and here are 13 reasons you should care



THE ANNUAL CIAA Tournament has been around longer than most of us have been alive. The basketball tournament began in 1946, after its governing body, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, was founded in 1912, making it the first African American athletic conference. The CIAA’s founders probably wouldn’t recognize their tournament today–and whether this is a good or bad thing can be debated. But what can’t be disputed is the phenomenal growth and notoriety the CIAA Tournament has experienced since it chose Charlotte as its host city beginning with the 2006 tournament. With this being the 13th consecutive year of CIAA Week in the Queen City (February 27 to March 4, 2018), here are 13 reasons it still matters.

Helps people discover Charlotte.
For a significant number of people who visit during CIAA Week each year, this is their first time in Charlotte. There are countless tales of those visitors, impressed by the city, later deciding to move here. It’s also helped put Charlotte on the radar of important decision-makers. Years ago, I learned that when the Democratic National Convention Committee was selecting finalists for a city to host the 2012 DNC, someone on the committee spoke highly of Charlotte because he’d spent time here during the CIAA Tournament (Charlotte would go on to host the Democratic National Convention, of course).

Keeps the heat on during winter.
The tournament and the tens of thousands of visitors it attracts each February/March pump tens of millions of dollars into the local economy. Last year, the CIAA reported an economic impact of $47.4 million from the weeklong festivities. It’s fair to question whether economic impact numbers are as high as reported by any organization, but you can’t deny the benefits of thousands of hotel rooms being sold, restaurants being filled, and shops staying busy during what would otherwise be a slow winter week in Charlotte.

HBCUs as a first choice.
If it wasn’t for the CIAA Tournament, you probably wouldn’t know about most of its member schools (if you know about them at all). Eleven of the 12 are historically black colleges and universities – with the exception of Chowan University, whose student body is still predominantly black – and several of the schools have fewer than 2,500 students, including Johnson C. Smith University here in Charlotte. Many of these HBCUs were founded within a few years after the Civil War, and for the first 100 years or so of their existence, on through the Civil Rights Movement, were the only option for African Americans to pursue higher education (still, limited as it was). The CIAA helps keep proud traditions alive that entice black kids to consider attending an HBCU even though they have a plethora of options today.

Ladies who lead.
When Jacqueline “Jacqie” McWilliams was named CIAA commissioner in 2012, she became the first woman to lead the 100-year-old conference. While the number of women as sports conference commissioners around the country has improved during the last two decades, there’s still a long way to go, and Jacqie and her sisterhood continue to be trailblazers.

Student-athletes are students first.
Each year, the success of the CIAA Tournament, which features men's and women's basketball teams, contributes money to scholarships. Last year, $1.4 million was raised from the tournament and divided among the 12 schools. Unlike most college sports conferences where football is king, in the CIAA, the basketball tournament is the leading revenue driver.

CIAA is for the kids, too.
More than 4,600 middle school and high school students from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and surrounding counties attended the annual CIAA Education Day last year. This year, the middle school program will be held February 27 (Ovens Auditorium) and the high school program February 28 (Charlotte Convention Center). Plus, the annual CIAA Teen Summit takes place March 1 at the convention center.

To be fair (about jobs).
While the black unemployment rate in this country is at an historic low of 6.8 percent, decreasing steadily over the last several years, it’s still significantly higher than white unemployment, which stands at 3.7 percent. Each year, the CIAA hosts its career expo, open to everyone looking for a new job or grad school opportunities. The career fair will be held March 1 at the convention center.

Getting down to serious business.
Also, on March 1, the 2018 CIAA Minority Business and Leadership Symposium takes place. One of the highlights of this free event is sure to be the panel discussion, “Wealth and Prosperity... How Do We Get There?” The opening keynote speaker is Earl “Butch” Graves Jr., president and CEO of Black Enterprise. (In case you missed the announcement last year, Black Enterprise will host its 2018 Entrepreneurs Summit in Charlotte in June.)

Say it loud (#JamesBrownVoice).
We’re experiencing a level of black pride in this country that hasn’t been seen since the 1970s. It’s easy to point to the success of the recently released Black Panther movie and the powerful inspiration coming from music by artists like Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, and Common. But education trumps all. The synergy created from the thousands of black alumni who return to Charlotte each year during CIAA Weekend, making it a college reunion and homecoming of sorts, can’t be overstated.

Must protect this house.
While at least 90 percent of the 200 or so parties and social events that take place during CIAA Week aren’t sanctioned by the conference and aren’t official events, an even higher number is the percentage of events that go off without any violence or police-required incidents. The week is largely peaceful, despite the large crowds. Still, there are a few serious (and seriously scary) incidents that occur each year at (or outside of) parties that week in Charlotte, including shootings; luckily, no one has been seriously injured over the years. I don’t recall there ever being trouble at an official CIAA gathering, but because the unofficial parties and concerts are a primary reason the large number of people come to Charlotte, those who care about preserving the integrity of the CIAA's legacy have to step up. I challenge the CIAA schools’ alumni to lead the way, so this weeklong celebration can continue to flourish and be enjoyed by the next generation.

The games, remember.
For the first time during its tenure in Charlotte, last year’s CIAA Tournament held the first two days’ worth of games at Bojangles’ Coliseum, before finishing the final three days at the Spectrum Center. In previous years, all five days, all 22 games of the tournament were held at Spectrum, which is ideal because it's located in Uptown, where all the rest of the action is. But the dismal attendance of the Tuesday and Wednesday games over the course of several years, led to the decision to hold the first two days at the smaller, less-conveniently located Bojangles’ Coliseum. The same schedule will occur this year, with the tournament days split across the two venues. HBCU alumni and basketball fans of all stripes need to place more emphasis on going to the games, before more setbacks threaten the tournament’s livelihood.  

Honor the pioneers.
When the CIAA was founded, it would be several decades before black students were allowed to attend the same colleges as white students, let alone be able to play on the same sports teams. The integration of most college sports programs is something we, as a country, have only witnessed during the last 50 years. Pay tribute to the many black basketball players (and other sports athletes) from CIAA schools of decades ago, who never got a fair shot.

This is your annual opportunity to end Black History Month on a high note in Charlotte.

Visit and make 2018 your best CIAA Week ever.


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