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CIAA Tournament's Image Hurt By Unofficial Events

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, or CIAA, men’s and women’s basketball tournament is in full swing with more than 100,000 people expected to pour into the city for the event.

The tournament usually generates about $50 million for the local economy. And with the tournament comes parties and events not sanctioned by the CIAA. Such events have sometimes ended in violence and tarnished the tournament’s image—something organizers are trying to fix.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn
CIAA banners are posted at major venues around Charlotte, including on the rail system this year to promote the basketball tournament

The CIAA has hosted men’s basketball tournaments for historically black colleges for 73 years and women’s tournaments for 44 years. This is the 13th year that the tournament has been held in Charlotte. People locally and around the country look forward to cheering their teams on and attending parties around the city. There’s more to the CIAA five-day event said Raleigh-native Hillman Evans, a graduate of Livingstone College.

“The CIAA has given me an opportunity to work my talents and network with people from all over," Evans said. "[I've been able to] build and communicate in ways that have shown me that if you connect with people, there is no limit to where you’re headed."

That’s the kind of message CIAA officials want to spread about the tournament. In the past, isolated violent incidents not associated with official CIAA events have overshadowed the tournament.

Last year, about 100 shots were fired outside of an unsanctioned party in Uptown. Early yesterday morning, a man was shot in the leg outside of the Palace Charlotte nightclub during an unofficial event. The event was promoted as if it was sanctioned.

“We have a licensing attorney who is constantly checking websites and sending cease and desist notices to those who are using the brand and marketing their events under CIAA,” said Jacqie McWilliams, the CIAA commissioner.

As for CIAA parties, she said, “Every entertainer we have goes through an approval process for our events to determine what they’re bringing into the mix of CIAA. If they have past problems, we don’t bring [them] into our events.”

McWilliams said they know people will go to the unsanctioned events - something the CIAA has no control over.

“What we can control is our own messaging," she said. "When we’re talking out in public and really pumping out the great events that we have and what is official to the CIAA.”

That means talking up events like the two-day student education conference, business seminars and the career expo at the convention center. About 100 companies, school districts and government agencies, such as the FBI, came to interview students. Jalesa Sutton from Shaw University brought 20 students.

“We’re getting the word out and hope more students will participate in the career expo and job opportunities portion of the conference,” Sutton said. “We want them to have fun as well and also focus on their careers.”

Students dressed in suits and ties lined up to talk to recruiters. Sophomore twins Je’Chea and Je’Chel Briggs, from California, were part of Sutton’s group.

“Everything is interesting,” said Je’chea, a communications major. “I haven’t met a lot of mass communications people but I’m also interested in education and met a lot [of people] today.”

“I brought my resume and, overall, I have enjoyed meeting with schools and got good information about where I can do my student teaching,” Je’Chel said.

The Briggs twins will attend the games but said they don’t plan to attend the after parties.

Tom Murray, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, said he knows there will be lots of unofficial parties. He said the city will be able to keep better track of them this year.

“One issue was in permitting, especially in the unofficial events, and the city worked hard to create a new processing point and managing those so we are able to better understand where those popup parties are going to be,” Murray said.

Police, the Fire Department and other city agencies will have a master list of those events and can add extra security if needed. They can also check to make sure the events have a liquor license if alcohol is being sold. If the event doesn't have a license, they can more easily shut it down.

Murray said negotiations will start this summer on whether the CIAA will be held in Charlotte after the current contract ends in 2020. He said he hopes to keep it here and so does McWilliams, the CIAA Commissioner. McWilliams said that decision will be up to her board.

This story was updated to reflect the end date of the current CIAA contract.