CIAA FUTURE CAN BE GREAT
Black Heritage Review
Much has been made of the impending move of the CIAA Championship Tournament from Charlotte, North Carolina to Baltimore, Maryland. At this point, it is a done deal, so, we must look at this as a good thing, based on the history. The CIAA is an event that has developed its own merit and status. Thus, it is an event that has become portable.
Understanding the 75 year history, the CIAA has moved 15 times. It moved three times in the first seven years, beginning at the Uline Arena. It had a 2,000 seat capacity, but, they managed to get about 3,000 fans.
From there, it moved to Turner Arena, which was considerably larger. They stayed there for three years. When that contract ended, there was a single season where the event was moved to the campus of Morgan State in Hill Gymnasium for reasons that were not fully clear.
After that season, the decision was made to move the event to the campus of North Carolina College (Central). This gave the event committee a larger facility that provided them a seating capacity of 3,500. It remained there for seven years until it eventually grew out of McDougal-McLendon Gym.
The CIAA moved to Greensboro in the spring of 1960. It was moved to Winston Salem’s War Memorial Coliseum. During this time a strong rivalry developed between Winston Salem State and North Carolina A&T. This rivalry had much to with this closeness of the institutions as well as the two dynamic coaches: Cal Irving (A&T) and Clarence “Bighouse” Gaines. The two had been teammates at Morgan State during the early 1940s. While Irving was a star in basketball and baseball, he also played football. One of his star blockers was Gaines, who also played on the basketball team. The two became great friends but bitter rivals. This played out between the late 1950s until A&T left the CIAA in the early 1970s.
The massed exit of members after the 1971 season put a major strain on the CIAA as a conference. One of the saving graces was the annual basketball tournament. People who had attended kept attending. That included many who were alumni and fans of the programs that left.
When the Tournament moved to Hampton in 1976 there was a fear that it would die. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Yes, there were people from across North Carolina and other places who did not attend. There were also people across Virginia who saw this as their opportunity to attend for the first time. Many of them kept coming back when it moved to Norfolk, and, to Richmond. They also followed the event when it moved back to North Carolina for the next two and a half decades.
Moving to Baltimore is a great thing for the conference. While the conference needs to better engage their audience in that area, their approach should be that of an institution from one site to another. Understand some people with move with that institution and some won’t. There is still a great opportunity to tap into DC, Maryland and Philadelphia, along with all of the areas in between those major cities.
To insure the institution is maintained, there needs to be a change in how each institution engages their student bodies, and, expand their capacity to grow locally. Most of the student bodies have grown in the last 20-plus years. BUT, their facilities are still where they were 25 years ago. Winston Salem and Livingstone play before a packed house when they meet. Unfortunately, both play in gyms that are far too small. Winston plays in a gym built for a student body of 2,500 students. Their student body is more than 100 percent larger than when the Gaines Center opened over 40 years ago.
The key to all of this is the CIAA, like other athletic conferences, must make every effort to compete on a national level. That does not mean just winning the conference, this means competing for the national championship in each program.
To make this happen, it will be necessary for each member institution will have to improve on fundraising significantly. In this process, it will be necessary for these institutions to make athletics a priority in the area of facilities, personnel, coaches, and academic support.
There must be an adjustment in the overall view of athletics. Each institution must look at athletics from the perspective of sports entertainment business rather than just an extracurricular activity. They must also see athletics as the window to the greater community with athletes serving as their ambassadors. More people will see a bench warmer on the football or basketball team than will see most of the other students on campus. In that regard, it is important to make sure that they are able to put their best foot forward. Let’s not forget that these athletes are also students, and, there is the possibility of athletes being among those honor students.
The individual efforts of the member institutions will help to solidify the prestige of the conference. When this happens it provides a better product on the court, thus, more fans in the seat and viewing via the media outlets. This will not only engage the students and fan base, it will also engage new fans in the area where the Tournament is moving to.
Even though the Tournament is moving north for the first time in over a half century, there are many alumni from all of the member schools who live in this area. This is the initial pool to draw from, along with people who are just strong basketball fans. The move north will be as good as the conference, and, its member institutions choose to make it. Moving was a sound business decisions. Now, the conference leaders must make that decision work just like the founding fathers made it work 75 years ago.
HBCU Heritage Center
“The history of HBCUs is rich, but, WE must tell our own story.”