Commentary

Saunders: CIAA comes up short in its new deal with Charlotte

bsaunders@newsobserver.comMarch 10, 2014 

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Showing their support for the CIAA, from left, Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO Tom Murray, CIAA Commissioner Jacqie Carpenter and Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon hold up their hands after Carpenter announced Monday that the CIAA basketball tournament will stay in Charlotte.

ROBERT LAHSER — rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

If you’ve found yourself wondering whatever happened to the inept lawyer who represented you in your last divorce – the one from which you emerged with just the shirt on your back and half of your O’Jays albums – don’t worry.

He’s alive and well – and apparently representing the CIAA.

Even if the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association left the Charlotte negotiation table with its shirt, it didn’t leave with any dignity – or much more money.

How could it, when it agreed to a six-year contract extension with the city to keep its lucrative – for Charlotte, that is – basketball tournament there in exchange for crumbs?

Business acumen?

Like you, when I read that the CIAA had re-upped with Charlotte for $1.4 million a year, I figured someone had mistakenly added a decimal point. After all, the last contract was for $1 million. Surely no negotiator with a modicum of business acumen would sell out the tournament for chump change yet again, right?

Wrong. That’s precisely what the perpetually cash-strapped conference did. And moved its headquarters to Charlotte from Hampton, Va.!

Conference Commissioner Jacqie Carpenter had intimated before the tournament began last week that the profitable – for the host city, that is – conference tournament might be up for bids and she was supposedly set to entertain offers from Atlanta, Raleigh and other cities.

Sharon Goldmacher, a CIAA spokeswoman, told me Monday, though, that no bids were ever solicited because “Charlotte proactively approached with a package ... and the CIAA decided to not go forward with the ‘request for proposals’ ” to other cities “because they had wanted to concentrate on the execution of the tournament” that was taking place. “They felt it would be unfair to cities to not be available for immediate questions.”

So they locked themselves into a six-year deal because they didn’t want to wait a couple of days until the tournament ended to entertain other offers?

A strong hand

Uh, OK. The CIAA had a strong negotiating hand – emphasis on had – because knowledgeable estimates are that revelers leave $30 million cash in the host city and take out nothing but dirty laundry and memories.

Andrew Brown, public relations director for the Greensboro Coliseum, cited figures from the Greensboro Convention & Visitors Bureau showing that the economic impact of the just-concluded women’s ACC tournament and the about-to-commence men’s tournament on that city is $5 million and $22 million, respectively.

What city wouldn’t try to hold onto or entice a tournament that has an estimated $50 million financial impact but which asks only $1.4 million in return?

Heck, even Rockingham might’ve been able to match that offer. Of course, the city has only 432 hotel beds since the Wing Wang Motel was shut down by the health department last year, so somebody would’ve had to double up.

Speaking of Rockingham, I once had a younger cousin with whom I’d play “I’ll give you this big old nickel for that little bitty dime.” The next year, when he was fixing to go off to college, he realized he’d been taken.

When will the CIAA realize the same thing?

Efforts to reach Commissioner Carpenter failed, so I didn’t get to ask her why the conference accepted so little in exchange for so much. Nor was I able to ask whether, at any time during the weeklong wang dang doodle, the presidents of the schools and she convened to work on a strategy for survival – short-term for struggling St. Augustine’s University, long-term for the conference itself.

After I wrote a restrained and sensible column recently suggesting the conference forgo its basketball bacchanalia for just one year and use the money its attendees blow on airplane tickets, hotel rooms and channeling the ghost of Big Money Grip to fund their schools, some HBCU alumni came down hard on me.

They should save their ire for whoever negotiated this lame deal. The initials “CIAA” may as well stand for Charlotte Is All A’glow with y’all’s cash, because after convincing the conference to accept such a skewed deal, city officials know the conference tournament is never going to leave. Not after 15 years.

Kidnappers often ensure that their victims won’t attempt to flee by telling them that no one else wants them. Is that what happened here? Or did Charlotte work a mojo on the CIAA and it forgot how to look out for its own best interests?

One of my favorite country music songs – and philosophies – is called “I Can Be Had (But I Can’t Be Bought).”

The CIAA tournament, sad to say, was had and bought. For chump change.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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