By Associated Press
The CIAA tournament has experienced unprecedented growth over the past decade and interim Commissioner Peggy Davis has no plans to let that momentum slip.
Her goal is to build a stronger CIAA.
This week the conference comprised mostly of historically black colleges and universities celebrates its 100th year anniversary when its signature events — the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments — descend on Charlotte.
Games, as well as the parties that come with it, begin Tuesday and will last throughout the week.
Davis says the conference’s goals moving forward include possible expansion, increasing the scholarship money given back to the existing schools and continuing to build on the remarkable growth the CIAA Tournament has enjoyed since coming to Charlotte by continuing to draw in more business support in the community.
Last year the CIAA Tournament generated a $44.3 million economic impact for Charlotte, a 19 percent increase over 2010. That’s more than last year’s ACC and Big Ten basketball tournaments combined.
In 2008, the CIAA made a big step forward in terms of diversity, adding Chowan University, a mostly white school to the conference after losing schools who tested the waters at the Division I level. Last year Winston-Salem State and Lincoln University rejoined the conference, bringing the total back to 12 schools.
“We would like to expand if the situation is right,” Davis said. “That is the direction the NCAA is heading. Our main goal is try to provide opportunities for students and athletics and if expanding can enhance that, we will do it.”
No other Division II conference can compete with the popularity of the CIAA tournament, even though the basketball games themselves have become an afterthought.
Most folks come for the celebrity-hosted parties, the huge fan experience, the concerts, dance competitions, cooking shows and the chance to people-watch in what amounts to a giant reunion that alumni continue to mark as a must-do on their calendars. This year national recording artists Yolanda Adams, Boyz II Men, Avant, Estelle, Omarion and Vivian Green will perform while actors Lance Gross, Laz Alonzo and Terrance J will be in attendance.
The conference is expecting more than 200,000 people to attend the events.
Davis said the networking at the tournament is huge for the CIAA, saying it has resulted in countless jobs for CIAA students and alumni through corporate internship programs established between the conference and its corporate partners.
“It really is much more than just basketball,” Davis said. “It’s about renewing relationships. It’s about reunions and exposing our students to new opportunities. As long as alumni and fans continue to support us and send individuals to college we’ll continue to grow.”
The growth has been remarkable since the tournament’s humble beginnings in 1946 at a small gym called Turner Arena in Washington, D.C.
There was no racial equality then and many Southern cities didn’t want a predominantly black collegiate conference in their venues and refused to rent to the CIAA.
Bobby Vaughan a former CIAA player who later coached 37 years at Elizabeth City said securing hotels space was also a major problem.
“Back in the day players actually had to sleep in the gyms or in the attics of some of the dormitories,” Vaughan said.
The tournament moved from city to city after that and experienced some growth along the way. But it wasn’t until it arrived in Charlotte in 2006 that it began to explode, drawing a record 124,114 fans and creating a $15.4 economic impact in its first year.
Not surprisingly, the CIAA has renewed its contract with the city to host the tournament twice since. The current deal runs through 2014.
“We feel like it’s been a real win-win situation for both sides when it comes to having it in Charlotte,” said Dr. Mickey L. Burnim, chairman of the CIAA board of directors. “There is plenty to do and the alumni really love coming here. It’s been a great home for us.”
The CIAA has a strong, proud history.
It boasts five members of the NBA Hall of Fame including John McLendon, considered the father of black college basketball, Clarence “Big House” Gains, Earl Lloyd, Earl “The Pearl’ Monroe and Sam Jones.
In its heyday, the CIAA regularly turned out NBA players.
But when integration of black athletes into larger Division I schools became more commonplace, the talent in the CIAA Tournament dropped off. The only current former CIAA player still in the league is Ben Wallace.
Vaughan, now 84, still attends the CIAA tournament every year.
While many of his colleagues have since passed, he loves catching up with old friends and making new ones as he takes in a few games. Even if some of those games aren’t quite what they used to be.
“Up until the late ‘70s, a lot of the guys that might be starting for North Carolina and Wake Forest they played in CIAA,” said Vaughan. “All of the great black ball players played at black schools. Now every kid that wants to be on television and wants to play Division 1 ball — and you can’t blame them.
“The CIAA still has some very good talent, but the days of Sam Jones and Earl Monroe are over. We’re not turning out the pros anymore.”
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