|CIAA tournament is a lot more than basketball|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 27 February 2008 09:20|
The bigger parties don't need advertising, with R. Kelly, Lil' Kim, Keith Sweat and Floyd Mayweather Jr. scheduled to host bashes.
Amid the sea of well-dressed people hopping from event to event, it's easy to forget that the reason 165,000 people are expected here this week is a basketball tournament.
The Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tourney is a lot more than hoops, serving as a giant reunion for alumni and friends of historically black colleges and universities.
``Everybody has a basketball tournament. You've got to do something different for people to come to yours,'' said Leon Kerry, the CIAA's longtime commissioner and tireless salesman. ``That's what we tried to do. As long as they don't use the CIAA name in vain, we don't have a problem with groups putting the name on their event.''
The oldest league of historically black schools, the CIAA has 10 members from North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. The women's portion of the tournament started Monday and the men began play Wednesday. The only Division II league with a national television deal, the men's and women's finals on Saturday will be shown on ESPN Classic.
The scope of the tournament is huge; the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority predicts the CIAA tournament will bring in more money for the city than either the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament or the NCAA East Regional, both next month.
``You have more people who come and actually stay the entire week as opposed to the other tournaments where people come and if their team loses they go home,'' said Tim Newman of the CRVA. ``In this tournament, a family reunion happens and a basketball game breaks out every once in a while.''
It's tough to keep track of the number of events. Advertisements for CIAA parties are all over town. The convention center is hosting a fan festival. A golf tournament has been scheduled. And the premiere of the ESPN-produced documentary on basketball at historically black schools will be shown during a reception Thursday.
``The CIAA is one of the most exciting tournaments in all of basketball,'' Thompson said. ``To be a part of it in any small way is good.''
It's the third straight year Charlotte has hosted the tournament and Kerry announced on Sunday a three-year extension, but not until he got the city to agree to several financial concessions.
Charlotte officials agreed, eager to keep an event that is estimated to have an economic impact of $28 million.
``Many people who are associated with the CIAA make this their annual vacation,'' Newman said. ``They may not even step foot in the arena, they're here for the events in the convention and the other parties that take place around town. There are lots of schools that aren't even in the conference anymore that still have alumni gatherings.''
T, Winston-Salem State and North Carolina Central have left the league in the last several years to move to Division I. But you'll still see sweatshirts from those schools at the CIAA tournament.
``If you went to school in the CIAA, you played in the CIAA and you want to see people you went to school with, you've got to come to the CIAA,'' said Kerry, whose alma mater, Norfolk State, left the league a decade ago. ``You can go to wherever your school reclassified, but you're not going to see the same people. You don't fit in.''
Somehow everyone seems to fit in at the CIAA despite the diversity. While more than a dozen rappers are hosting parties, there are also numerous choir competitions. Comedian Steve Harvey is hosting his radio show here.
And maybe some people will actually see part of a basketball game.
``This is the place to be,'' Kerry said. ``We're the pacesetters.''