The mascot and cheerleaders from Bowie State University were on hand for the initial announcement of the CIAA athletic conference’s move to Baltimore, in 2019, before the tournament was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: J.K. Schmid)

By Mark F. Gray,
Special to the AFRO

The countdown to the tip off of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s (CIAA) trip to Baltimore is in full swing. Charm City has already rolled out the welcome mat as witnessed by the logos of all the CIAA schools that are currently draped across the Harborplace walkway on Pratt Street.

From Feb. 22-26 the nation’s premiere Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) basketball event will take over downtown, in what, city officials are hoping, will be a financial windfall for tourism during what is normally a barren time for the hospitality and tourism industries during the latter days of winter.

After a year’s delay, the CIAA Basketball Tournament will debut in Royal Farms Arena for a week of activities that is bigger than just the men’s and women’s conference championships. It has become a week of social activities surrounding the game and has made it a cultural experience. Maryland’s largest city hopes to benefit from a potential $30 million impact on the economy.

“Baltimore is a basketball town through and through and this tournament will bring the best of Black America to Baltimore,” said Mayor Brandon Scott. “Students and graduates of HBCUs will visit Baltimore in just a few weeks to experience our great city and everything that we have to offer.”

Baltimore’s three-year agreement to host the nation’s oldest HBCU basketball tournament was scheduled to start last February.  However, because of the pandemic the festivities were canceled and a tournament without basketball was held virtually.     

The CIAA Tournament ended a successful 17-year run in Charlotte, N.C. that brought greater attention to basketball through national television and radio exposure. However, as the cache of tournament became more of a “thing” that influenced visitors to “The Queen City” for events other than basketball, the conference began losing out to fans who were there to party and not watch the games. While it proved to be an economic boom for that metropolis in the Carolinas, the CIAA struggled to put fans in the seats. 

Estimates are that the tournament had between a $30-50 million impact on the local economy in that region. However, the conference recognized their fan base in the Northeast had been clamoring for the tournament being relocated to the I-95 corridor. Scores of CIAA alumni from the “Tri-State” (NJ, NY, CT) area along with Philadelphia and D.C. hadn’t been traveling to the tournament because of its proximity to them.

“We recognized early on that social activities are a big part of the CIAA Tournament experience, ” said Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, the organization who led the bid process and represents as hosts for the city. “That’s why we immediately set out to find minority promoters to help stage events that provide safe entertainment options for visitors of all ages.

As always there will be the customary multitude of affiliated events that officials are hoping will appeal to a diverse demographic of alumni, fans, and tourists. The week’s activities will include Education Day, and a Career Expo which are designed to engage high school students about HBCUs and to expose upcoming graduates to job opportunities with various companies.

The free CIAA Fan Fest and Super Saturday, step-shows and concerts will again be featured during tournament week at the Baltimore Convention Center. Among the artists confirmed to perform at the official CIAA Tournament events are Big Daddy Kane, YoYo, Monie Luv, Rakim and Michel’le, DJ Jazzy Jeff and DJ Kool.

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