CIAA Tournament: a mixture of hoops, hype, entertainment

CIAA Tournament:  a mixture of hoops, hype, entertainment
February 26
00:00 2015
(Above: Photo by Craig T. Greenlee– WyKevin Bazemore (22) protects the ball after grabbing a rebound against Joshua Linson of Johnson C. Smith.)

There’s no denying that the CIAA Basketball Tournament ranks among the marquee events in all of college sports. Last year’s tournament generated an economic impact of $47 million for the host city Charlotte.

This week-long mix of basketball, step shows, concerts, after-parties and class reunions, is expected to attract nearly 200,000 people. The tournament started on Tuesday and will end on Saturday.

In recent years, die-hard basketball aficionados have come to believe that the games are no longer the tournament’s centerpiece. Some would argue that it’s now stage right or stage left, or maybe it’s no longer on the stage at all.

To address those schools of thought, SportsWeek called on a panel of experts who are very familiar with the background and inner workings of the tournament. All are involved with media outlets that provide nationwide coverage of black college sports.

Lut Williams, editor/publisher of the syndicated Black College Sports Page, remembers attending the 1968 tournament when North Carolina A&T played Norfolk State in front of a sold-out crowd of 20,000-plus at the Greensboro Coliseum. He also recalled that 5,000 were turned away.

“The best players at HBCUs back then were like the top black players you see today in the ACC and other major-college programs,” he said. “The quality of competition was very riveting. But give credit to the CIAA for understanding where the revenue comes from and how to make the best of their situation.”

The vast majority of people who come to the tournament, Williams explained, do so for reasons other than watching basketball. He estimates that 75 percent of those CIAA visitors will not attend a game because they know little or nothing about the players or the teams.

“You’re far more likely to have a packed house at one of the non-basketball venues,” he said. “Over the years, the CIAA Tournament has evolved. From a basketball standpoint, it has lost some of its luster. On the other hand, it’s gained considerable luster as a social event. Go on the tournament website and you’re inundated with info about all the extra-curricular events. When it comes to finding info about basketball, it’s not so easy.”

The CIAA has taken steps to establish a long-term relationship with Charlotte, which has hosted the tournament since 2006. A new contract has been signed that will keep the tournament in the Queen City for another six years. Aside from that, the Hampton, Va.-based conference will move its headquarters to Charlotte in 2016. These developments should bode well for the tournament’s future.

Still, there are challenges. Building a large enough fan base to fill most of the 20,200 seats in Time Warner Cable Arena (home of the Charlotte Hornets) is no easy task.

“As a Division II conference playing in an NBA arena, you have to do other things to generate income,” said Steven J. Gaither, creator of the HBCU GameDay website. “Building attendance is an on-going process. The CIAA is headed in the right direction. It’s a matter of finding the right balance between basketball and entertainment. With the headquarters moving to Charlotte, it gives the conference more opportunities to cultivate year-round support from all segments of the community.”

Basketball-wise, the men’s and women’s tournaments could be wide open. On the men’s side, the top four teams in the North and South divisions finished the season tied for first and third place.

As for the women, the North Division’s top four finishers were separated by one game. In the South, all eyes will be on Livingstone’s Lady Blue Bears, who were undefeated for most of the season, but ended up forfeiting 18 games because their best player, Kyra Crosby, was ruled ineligible.

Livingstone, which would have been a No. 1 seed, was dropped to No. 3 after the forfeits were factored in. Even though Crosby is out, the Lady Blue Bears are still capable of winning the CIAA and advancing to Division II’s national tournament. But that doesn’t make Livingstone a lock to bag the title.

Top-seed Shaw could pose problems. The Lady Bears only league losses came at the hands of Livingstone. Johnson C. Smith shouldn’t be overlooked either. It was the Lady Golden Bulls who handed Livingstone its only on-the-court loss of the season.

“Looking at how the regular season turned out, there’s an air of unpredictability in Charlotte for this week,” said Eric Moore, managing editor of the website. “Being the No. 1 seed doesn’t guarantee anything. Sometimes, top-seeded teams are rusty in the first round. They’ve had time off with a first-round bye and could be prone for an upset as a result.

Another factor to consider is the arena itself. CIAA teams don’t play in large venues like the one in Charlotte. When playing in big arenas, depth perception can be an issue, especially for 3-point shooting. The teams that make the right adjustments from one half to the next and from one game to the next will be the teams that win.”

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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