The CIAA Tournament, like the Bayou Classic, has unfairly become an annual referendum on the value of HBCU athletics based upon fan attendance, corporate sponsorship dollars and buzz in traditional and social media. Without all of these things, the tournament still draws thousands of people and adds much gravitas to the tourism profile of whatever city hosts the event.
Northern-based HBCU basketball fans have to learn lessons from the spoiled and coddled fans in North Carolina, who for 13 years enjoyed the high life of the CIAA Tournament social orbit, but who never drove the tournament’s brand as an actual athletic event despite most of the participating schools being in the State of North Carolina.
Those fans won’t be coming to Baltimore; they’ll say it will be too far to go, too cold to visit in February, and not as much fun as Charlotte. All of those things may be legitimate points for everyone below Petersburg, Va., but not for everyone above it. And for everyone who is all-in for a black college basketball tournament within a two-hour drive of several major cities, the onus is on them to actually fill the Royal Farms Arena to help the conference maintain its swag as a lightning rod for companies looking to sell products and goodwill to educated, affluent black people.
This will be the first time in more than a decade where the CIAA Tournament will reclaim the opportunity to build interest not only with geographically distant alumni of CIAA schools, but also with graduates former CIAA schools like Morgan State and Hampton, and SWAC alumni now living and working in the mid-Atlantic but who do not travel to Mississippi, Houston, Atlanta or New Orleans for major conference games and tournaments.
Moving to Baltimore gives the CIAA a chance to evolve as a national event for all HBCU students and alumni, something that the tournament lost in the glitz of its run in Charlotte. The new city may not give everyone the late winter getaway they want, but it will give the conference a chance to rediscover what its basketball tournament should have always been; a showcase of HBCU talent and black buying power that just happens to give way to decent bars and clubs once the games are over, and not the other way around.