CIAA to pick host city Tuesday

Raleigh, Charlotte vie for tournament

Staff WriterDecember 11, 2004 

An answer to the hottest question in black college sports -- Raleigh or Charlotte? -- is expected Tuesday.

This weekend and possibly Monday, the 12 presidents and chancellors of CIAA schools will choose which city will host the conference's coveted basketball tournament in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

The college leaders had their last group discussion to "vet and clarify" both bids by teleconference Friday, said Mickey L. Burnim, chancellor of Elizabeth City State University and chairman of the CIAA board of directors.

Ten of the 12 presidents and chancellors joined the call. Burnim said either he or CIAA Commissioner Leon Kerry will brief the other two college chief executives on Friday's discussion before each one makes a choice.

There was no decision after pitches by both cities last month at a meeting in Norfolk, Va.

Such votes are traditionally cast by secret ballot while the presidents and chancellors are together, Burnim said.

This time, the votes will have special handling to ensure anonymity -- even from afar, he added.

Kerry will announce the winning city in a news release on Tuesday, Burnim said.

The CIAA basketball tournament has been held in Raleigh since 2000 and is the city's biggest sports money-maker. It is the country's third-largest college basketball tournament and the largest of the black college conferences.

Raleigh's second three-year contract ends with the 2005 tournament.

The 2004 games generated an economic impact of $11.5 million, brought in nearly $1 million in tax revenue and attracted more than 90,000 fans during the week.

The host city for the next three-year contract must commit at least $600,000 in scholarship money every year, which would guarantee each CIAA school a minimum of $50,000 annually.

A 'CIAA village'

Charlotte's major selling point is the glistening arena under construction downtown. It is rising in a compact area filled with hotels, restaurants and attractions that the city is marketing as the "CIAA Village" for the weeklong tourney. A Charlotte win poses clear advantages for the city's only CIAA school, Johnson C. Smith University, and Livingstone College in nearby Salisbury.

Raleigh boasts its central location and its five-year history of drawing record attendance. The Triangle is home to Shaw University and St. Augustine's College in Raleigh and N.C. Central University in Durham. Though the RBC Center in West Raleigh has few hotels and restaurants nearby, Raleigh also has proposed building a Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association headquarters and hall of fame.

"Both cities presented very good bids -- excellent bids -- and they showed that they genuinely do desire to have the tournament in their cities. We certainly appreciate that," Burnim said.

The written bids have not been released to the public, and little has been revealed about revisions to sweeten them.

Two weeks ago, Raleigh raised the ante of its bid with $150,000 a year from the Centennial Authority, which owns and operates the RBC Center -- the arena that hosts the tournament.

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said Friday that Raleigh and Wake County also kicked in more scholarship money, but would not disclose how much.

Sponsorships vital

Such up-front support is important given that the local steering committee has never raised its share of sponsorships -- a shortfall met by Raleigh and Wake County. The panel has since hired a professional sports fund-raiser to bring in the $1 million local commitment for the 2005 tourney.

Burnim remained tight-lipped Friday about the specifics of either city's bid, but offered some details about the day's hourlong phone conference.

He said the discussion centered on the specific offerings in the bid packages -- scholarship money each city would guarantee, expenses the conference would pay, costs the cities would incur and last-minute incentives.

"We wanted to make sure that we had those elements in a format that we could compare them and make the best decision for the conference," he said. "We needed to make sure we understood the implications of the changes and what they were committing to as we evaluated the two proposals."

Burnim discounted a story in Friday's Charlotte Post newspaper, based on unnamed sources, that the league had enough votes to move the tournament to Charlotte.

"This the first I've heard of that," he said. "I don't know how anyone can know that. No one has asked me how I would vote. I have talked to all the members of the conference and I wouldn't dare say how [the vote] will turn out."

Bill McMillan, marketing director of the Charlotte Regional Sports Commission, said he also had not seen the account in the black-community paper. Last month, Queen City officials gave the CIAA commissioner a hard-hat tour of the arena construction site and a took him to a proposed headquarters hotel.

"We are not cocky by any stretch of the imagination," McMillan said. "Raleigh has done such a phenomenal job. They are the incumbent. We have a lot of strengths in Charlotte, but Raleigh is some tough competition. We don't think this is a slam dunk at all."

Meeker, the Raleigh mayor, also thinks the contest will be tight.

"Although our bid is very competitive, it does appear to be a very close process and we await the decision next week," he said. "It's been very successful here and the tournament is worth more now than it was five years ago."

Changes possible

The CIAA -- a three-state conference of 12 schools along the Eastern Seaboard -- finds its geographic center and the epicenter of its fan base in Raleigh. The regional television presence has somewhat boosted the tournament's profile.

But things could be vastly different by 2007 or 2008.

Both NCCU and Winston-Salem State University could possibly leave the conference for Division I.

Last month, the CIAA became the first Division II conference with a deal to have its basketball games broadcast nationwide by the sports network ESPN.

In the five years the tournament has been in Raleigh, the Triangle's three CIAA colleges -- and nearby Fayetteville State University -- have enjoyed little or no travel expenses to bring their teams to hardwood play.

Moving to Charlotte would mean the farthest school, Bowie State University in Maryland, the three Virginia schools and even Burnim's Elizabeth City, would travel several more hours to reach their basketball tourney.

Burnim said the college leaders did not try to lobby for what was best for their individual institutions.

"We agreed from the beginning we wanted to make a decision that's in the best interest of the conference -- that will strengthen the CIAA as an athletic conference."

He went on to discuss some of the pros and cons that bubbled up in Friday's talks.

Burnim said travel budgets, costs for the fans and attendance changes if Charlotte is the winner were not major items of discussions, though he would not say whether they were major areas of concern for the college leaders.

"Certainly everybody recognizes that most of us will have to travel a bit further if the Charlotte site is selected," he said. "What was more important was what site will mean the most for the potential of the conference."

Burnim added that the CIAA's marketing firm, the Raleigh-based French-West-Vaughn, conducted surveys that revealed that both cities would enjoy excellent support from the fan base.

"The geographic location of Raleigh is obviously a lot more central for the conference as it is currently configured," he said.

Staff writer Cindy George can be reached at 829-4656 or cgeorge@newsobserver.com.

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