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CIAA Tournament Is A Lot More Than Basketball

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(Credit: L Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

(Credit: L Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Inside an enormous hall full of interactive sponsor displays, games and even a full-length basketball court, CIAA Commissioner Leon Kerry and Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx on Thursday unveiled a new logo for the league’s prestigious basketball tournament.

They were on stage at the same time the first of four men’s quarterfinal games tipped off a few blocks away.

“It’s become our community’s most anticipated event of the year — and I’m not just talking about the parties,” Foxx said of the CIAA tournament, drawing laughter from the audience. “There’s some pretty good basketball being played right down the street.”

The games themselves — 24 men’s and women’s contests over six days — often are an afterthought, however. That’s what happens when 175,000 people descend on a city in which the downtown arena seats less than 20,000.

Most folks are here for the celebrity-hosted parties, the second-largest fan experience outside of the Final Four, the concerts, dance competitions, cooking shows, beauty pageants and plenty of people-watching, too, in this giant reunion for 13 mostly historically black colleges and universities.

“What people don’t realize is everybody has a basketball tournament. You have to have something different to make people want to come,” Kerry said. “This is like ambush marketing for us.”

There is no comparable Division II basketball tournament in the country. More people will be here this week than will be in town for the second and third rounds of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament later this month.

Invitation-only parties are scheduled all over town, hosted by a wide range of people ranging from rapper Doug E. Fresh to D.J. Kool, Slick Rick and a slew of NFL players. Comedian Steve Harvey will host his radio show from here.

Foxx even claimed the CIAA’s success since the tournament moved here in 2006 helped Charlotte secure the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

“It put us on the map,” he said.

There were lengthy discussions with the White House to have President Barack Obama attend this year’s tournament, but Kerry said scheduling conflicts couldn’t be overcome and Obama may do a 30-second vignette to run at the arena.

Obama may not be around this weekend, but past history indicates Saturday will be a competition to see which will be more congested in downtown Charlotte, the streets or the sidewalks.

“We became a destination and a lot of promoters came to Charlotte and made a lot of money off the CIAA with the parties,” Kerry said. “But the key thing is the trademark is still the CIAA, not the day parties. It’s CIAA, the teams.”

The oldest league of historically black schools — it will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year — has expanded this year with the addition of Lincoln (Pa.) and Winston-Salem State, which is back after a failed, money-losing attempt to move to Division I.

The rest of the schools include Bowie State, Chowan, Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, Johnson C. Smith, Livingstone, St. Augustine’s, St. Paul’s, Shaw, Virginia State and Virginia Union.

But only in the CIAA can officials be worried that too many people are in town but not attending the games. After seeing smaller crowds last year when the men’s final was played in the afternoon and before the women so it could be shown live on ESPN Classic, Kerry decided to move the men’s championship to 8 p.m on Saturday.

ESPNU will show it on tape delay later that night — about the same time the parties will be in full swing across town.

“There’s going to be a lot of entertainment here,” Kerry said. “People are truly loyal to the CIAA.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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