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CIAA cancels basketball and postseason showcase in Baltimore
No tournament since its start in 1946
 
Published Monday, December 14, 2020 9:23 pm
by Herbert L. White

PHOTO | TROY HULL
The CIAA canceled its 2020-21 basketball season and its postseason tournament in Baltimore due to concerns about coronavirus infections along the league's footprint, which stretches from South Carolina to Pennsylvania. The tournament's cancellation is the first its 75-year history.

Basketball courts across the CIAA have gone dark, and with it the league’s marquee showcase.

The league announced Monday it’s canceling all competition, including the postseason tournament scheduled for Baltimore in February due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Conference teams started practice last week in preparation for the regular season, which was scheduled to launch in January. Volleyball was also called off.

“This has been a very tough decision for our board,” Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams told The Post. “Our board, my staff have been tracking data, what's been going on. “We have 13 schools and one associate member in communities that are being impacted highly, and as they continue to talk through can we play, will we be able to get through a season, I think it's clear that a clear path to get through a season would be very difficult (in terms of) the capacity to manage it.”

The Charlotte-based CIAA was the first Black college conference to cancel football in the fall due to concerns about the pandemic, but there was precedence in that the league didn’t sponsor that sport in 1943 due to World War II. The basketball tournament had never been disrupted since its debut in 1946 in Washington, D.C.

“I've been in this conference since I was 18 years old [when] I played basketball and I’ve returned to see championships,” McWilliams said, “and in 75 years this is the first tournament that will not happen. And even with football, that was only the second, maybe the third time because of World War II. We are having to cancel a tournament because of something we don't have control of.”

Virginia State last week became the first CIAA school to opt of basketball and league leaders subsequently voted to call off the season because of growing COVID-19 infection rates across the conference’s footprint, which stretches from South Carolina to Pennsylvania. Nationally, more than 300,000 people have died from the virus.

“This was not an easy decision or one that was taken lightly by the CIAA Board,” VSU President and CIAA Board Chair Makola Abdullah said in a statement. “We all want to have a season, and we want our student-athletes, coaches and staff to have a season. However, the data, which changes almost daily, does not support such a decision. The potential risk outweighs the desire to play.”  

Without the basketball tournament, the CIAA will look to mitigate the financial hit to its bottom line. The bulk of the league’s revenue is derived from ticket sales and sponsorships. The basketball showcase and its ancillary social events, which finished a 15-year run in Charlotte in 2020, generated nearly $600 million in economic impact, including $370 million in direct visitor spending, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. The league’s three-year contract with Baltimore as host city remains in place, but alternative plans for virtual events and sponsorship opportunities will be explored for 2021.

“It's hard,” McWilliams said. “I think our board and our membership, our coaches, we all feel it because CIAA basketball is who we are as a conference. It's the community that we're able to make valued impact and bring our fans and alumni and sponsors together, so we’ll just be creative. We've been creative thinking about new ways to do that through our virtual space, and I believe that will be just as fun, but it won't be the same.”

 

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