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CIAA faces tough call on moving events out of North Carolina

Eight of the 12 league schools are in North Carolina and its biggest event is in Charlotte

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) appears to be nervously considering whether its popular postseason basketball tournament and other league events will move from North Carolina in reaction to the state’s controversial House Bill 2 (HB2) public accommodations measure.

CIAA commissioner Jacqie McWilliams was planning to meet Thursday with the presidents and chancellors of the schools in the nation’s oldest black athletic conference to try to come up with a decision, according to league communications director Adrian Ferguson.

North Carolina has already lost an estimated $5 billion in business, athletic and entertainment events and facilities over the controversy — including the 2017 NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte.

Concern grew among the CIAA community earlier this month when the NCAA and ACC announced that they, too, were pulling events from the Tar Heel State.

McWilliams addressed the measure in a Sept. 13 statement that said, in part:

“The NCAA’s announcement to relocate its seven championships demonstrates the ongoing, negative impact that HB2 has on the state of North Carolina.

“This continues to be of concern to the CIAA with eight of our 12 member institutions residing in the state and our headquarters residing in Charlotte.

“The decision whether or not to relocate our championships is at the discretion of the CIAA board of directors … The CIAA board will continue to discuss and determine how to move forward for the collective interest of our student-athletes and stakeholders and for future of our conference.”

In July, when the NBA decided to move the All-Star Game, eventually announcing New Orleans as the new location, the CIAA seemed committed to remaining in Charlotte, with McWilliams saying at the time that the conference had “no intention to relocate our headquarters or the upcoming men’s and women’s basketball tournament,” from the Queen City, which has hosted the CIAA tournament since 2006.

But clearly the departure of NCAA and ACC events has changed the tenor of discussions.

What is HB2 about?

In March, the North Carolina legislature enacted HB2 and Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, signed it – declaring that individuals must use restrooms according to what gender is on their birth certificate. HB2 nullified measures such as the one passed earlier in Charlotte that gave individuals the rights to use restrooms consistent with the gender that they identified with.

Passage of the Charlotte measure came after some city council candidates – with strong backing from the LGBT community — made it a major part of their campaign platforms for last November’s elections. The city council approved the measure in February.

Then came the state legislature’s response — followed, in short order, by the business, entertainment and athletic departures.

To some, the major hurdle to action by the CIAA is that it would be difficult to find a place to relocate.

“We’re kind of caught in a Catch-22,” said George Williams, athletic director and track and field coach at St. Augustine’s University, “because we don’t have anywhere to go.”

Williams noted that the CIAA solicited bids for its tournament two years ago. Cities that showed interest then – such as Washington, D.C., and Atlanta – are unlikely to be able to accommodate a weeklong event on short notice that brings 150,000 visitors to town.

“It would take any state or city about six to seven years just to clear their calendars of events, with the sports they already have there. We just can’t hop to other cities,” Williams said. “These cities have professional teams. And most professional teams have schedules that last five to six years.”

Williams did speculate that with the coming November elections, Democrats might regain control of the legislature and repeal HB2. Until then, he said, “Whatever the commissioner and the board decide, I’m with them 100 percent.”

Williams, whose school is in Raleigh, North Carolina, is also feeling the pain of the controversy from another perspective. He is a member of the Raleigh Sports Alliance, and said area sports teams and cities – including nearby Cary, North Carolina – have lost $30 million to $40 million in economic impact with the departures of NCAA and ACC events.

The CIAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, scheduled for Feb. 20-25, 2017, in Charlotte, generate $55 million for the home city.

Other CIAA championship events in jeopardy include:

  • Cross-country – Charlotte (Oct. 27)
  • Football – Durham (Nov. 12)
  • Men’s and women’s indoor track and field championships — Winston-Salem (Feb. 12-13, 2017)
  • Men’s and women’s outdoor track and field championships – Charlotte (April 21-22, 2017)
  • Men’s and women’s tennis — Charlotte (April 20-22, 2017)

For CIAA, dilemma is different FROM THAT OF NCAA, ACC

Other CIAA officials said the small conference is in a more vulnerable position than richer organizations such as the NBA, NCAA and ACC.

“There are different dynamics that impact that decision,” said Tonia Walker, athletic director at Winston-Salem State University. “We’re six months away from our basketball championship right now, and I just don’t know if that’s even feasible for our conference.

“Eight of our schools are in North Carolina. It’s home for us. Those kinds of things have to be a part of the board’s decisions and their discussions,” Walker added. “Clearly, the NCAA and the ACC have that kind of financial backing to uproot and make those decisions. I’m not so sure the CIAA does.

“And you have to take into account any type of financial penalty that could go along with such a decision. That has to be a part of the decision. … I just haven’t not gotten any type of indication that such a move would be made.”

Walker also pointed out the difference between the relocation of the ACC championship football game, which is looking for a new December home after the recent announcements.

“That’s two teams and one day,” Walker said. “With the CIAA, you are looking at 24 teams, in terms of males and females, and then you’re looking at cheerleaders. That’s a lot of movement.”

And there is the matter of the thousands of fans.

State Alexander, executive assistant to the president and director of public relations at Livingstone University in Salisbury, North Carolina, about 45 minutes from Charlotte, said the biggest impact will be on fans.

“The fans will be most greatly impacted by it,” Alexander said. “They’ve already made plans to come to Charlotte for the games.”

Joe Taylor, athletic director at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia, one of the few conference schools that could host the tournament, said relocating is just talk for now.

“There has been a lot of discussion, but we really want to be of one voice on this,” Taylor said. “The commissioner’s office will issue a statement. I’m just glad to see us in dialogue. Whatever has to happen, I’m sure will happen.”

The CIAA appeared to have a chance at a reprieve on Sunday when the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce revealed it had asked both the state legislature and the Charlotte City Council to repeal their measures. The chamber said that if both bodies acted quickly, some of the events could return to North Carolina.

However, talks broke down between the legislature and the city.

In the meantime, for the schools, alumni and fans, it’s wait and see.

David R. Squires is a writer, editor and digital journalist who has worked for the New York Times, Detroit Free Press, Cleveland Plain Dealer and St. Petersburg Times. He's also a former editor-in-chief of BlackVoices.com and BVQ magazine, a former Black Enterprise writer and editor and NUTribemagazine.com managing editor.