The CIAA basketball tournament is back in Charlotte for its last run -- at least for now. After this year, it will be in Baltimore through 2023. The tournament is where historically black colleges and university basketball teams compete against each other. The CIAA is one of the country’s oldest athletic conferences, with 12 schools, including Johnson C. Smith in Charlotte.
The women’s and men’s competitions kicked off Tuesday with the finals scheduled for Saturday. The tournament has had its rocky times in Charlotte — there was the 15% CIAA tax the Ritz-Carlton added to customers’ bills known as the “black tax”; and there were some violent incidents at events not sponsored by the CIAA. WFAE's "All Things Considered" host talked to CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams about the tournament's run in Charlotte, its future and early beginning.
Gwendolyn Glenn: Let's start with a little history about the CIAA in terms of the need for it. When did it start?
Jacqie McWilliams: If you can imagine going back to that day, you had athletes or students who wanted to play the game and didn't have any place to play. And so you have a group of gentlemen that come together to found this conference so that there's an opportunity for students to play the game of basketball where entry wasn't possible anywhere else.
Glenn: Due to segregation?
McWilliams: Due to segregation. And so the CIAA has really been about opportunity and access to give students, business people, athletes, a place where they can be in an environment where there's culture, where they can learn, where they can play the games they love.
Glenn: And the name changed as well, correct?
McWilliams: Yeah. It was the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
Glenn: And you've had a lot of players who have gone through CIAA tournaments who went on to play professionally. Can you tell me some of them?
McWilliams: So, "Earl the Pearl" Monroe is one of our loves. He is from Philadelphia. He went to Winston-Salem State University. He is one of the first to actually play. And he is still engaged and involved with the CIAA a lot. One of our younger players, Ben Wallace, who is retired; he was at Virginia Union University. I had the opportunity to coach him. Charles Oakley, also from Virginia Union. I think Coach (Dave) Robbins probably had five or six NBA players that come out of that institution.
Glenn: How much has this tournament contributed economically to the city of Charlotte?
McWilliams: Not including this year, It's been $599.7 million, which is over half a billion dollars -- which is a pretty incredible number that has been invested in this community. You know, we have been able to have over $20 million in scholarships going back over the course of being here, back to our member institutions.
Glenn: And last year, how much was generated?
McWilliams: Last year was about $47.6 (million), I believe. Over the last couple of years, it's been between $47 to 50 million of economic impact and about $24-26 (million) in direct spend. We're here for seven days and we get here Sunday. We don't leave until Sunday. People are coming in. Hotels are filled.
Glenn: Now, you mentioned hotels. That has been kind of a sore spot with some fans that I've talked to and interviewed over the years, that the hotel (rates) were very high and not affordable. People were staying in Concord and outlying places because they couldn't afford to stay downtown. Then parking $25 every time you go in and out. How did that go this year?
McWilliams: We've tried to control those rates as much as we can. We work with a third party, ConferenceDirect ,that manages our hotel property. What we've been trying to get people to understand is that if you go through ConferenceDirect, the CIAA’s official partner that manages (hotels), you will get the better rates. I think what happens is the fans didn't believe in the system, so they go outside the system. And then when you go out the system, that means that the hotels have an opportunity to sell those rooms at a higher rate.
Glenn: And how much are they?
McWilliams: They range from probably $150 all the way to $250 depending on where you're staying. I believe we're getting pretty competitive rates at this point.
Glenn: And looking at the fact that you guys are getting ready to leave. There were issues in terms of the so-called "black tax" where people were charged the CIAA tax. You had issues where restaurants charged tips automatically that people weren't aware of. You had people complaining about parties and many of them weren't associated with the CIAA but were private parties. What are your thoughts looking back now that you're ready to leave? And do you think that will be an issue this year?
McWilliams: It's an issue at every event. I don't think it's anything different than CIAA, NBA, and NFL -- any of those events that are here; even the Panthers that play here. People attach themselves to things that they like and want to be a part of.
You can't use the CIAA brand. That's an important piece of who we are. And so you've got to go through a process to do that or be an officially sanctioned event. We can't control the promoters; the promoters have an opportunity no matter where they go to do their events. We've cleaned up a lot of what you were seeing a few years ago. We haven't had tax issues in a long time. We talk about the games and the events more than all the other things that were happening when I first got here.
Glenn: Let me ask you this because this is something I've heard a lot of people saying to me: They felt like the city didn't want to keep you guys, that they didn't fight hard enough to keep you guys from going to Baltimore. What are your thoughts on that and how do you respond?
McWilliams: You know, I think the city of Charlotte cares about the CIAA. I think there's leadership here that wants this tournament to stay. But I also think there's an opportunity for us to move to another city, reset ourselves, rebrand ourselves, and allow the schools up north to really have an opportunity to bring their fans and their alumni. The city of Charlotte will always have the opportunity to rebid again and bring something different or bring something the same. And then the board has to make that decision.
Glenn: CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams. The tournament is leaving but the CIAA headquarters will stay in Charlotte.