Barry Saunders

Saunders: Why is the CIAA still Charlotte’s hostage?

Shaw’s Aaliyah Mercer (24) dribbles past Chowan defender Jordan Payne (15) during the Chowan vs. Shaw CIAA women's tournament semifinals at Time Warner Cable Arena. Shaw won 86-77.
Shaw’s Aaliyah Mercer (24) dribbles past Chowan defender Jordan Payne (15) during the Chowan vs. Shaw CIAA women's tournament semifinals at Time Warner Cable Arena. Shaw won 86-77. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

We have, sad to say, seen this malady before.

Remember that time I was kidnapped by armed radicals and eventually found myself identifying with my captors, even taking up arms to help them rob a bank?

Oh, wait. That wasn’t me. That was Patty Hearst, the newspaper heiress.

Anyway, after being kidnapped and held for ransom, Hearst began to identify with her captors, adopted the name Tania and even helped rob a bank. That’s her with the machine gun and the raspberry beret.

Psychologists call the transformation she underwent Stockholm syndrome, and there is a case of it right here in North Carolina.

The leadership of the CIAA, which identifies so strongly with the city of Charlotte that it won’t seek to flee a one-sided contract even when an escape hatch beckons, is suffering a textbook example of Stockholm syndrome. They give us a few crumbs, and we’re so grateful that we won’t fly away even when they leave the cage door open.

Because some businesses, performers and organizations have already canceled gigs and conventions scheduled for North Carolina because of the legislature’s cynical HB2 machinations, you’d figure the CIAA brain trust might see this as an opportunity to slip out of a ludicrously lopsided deal, right?

You’d figure wrong. As a longtime critic of the couldn’t-possibly-have-been-negotiated-by-a-grownup deal between Charlotte and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, I called CIAA headquarters recently to see if the organization was considering leaving Charlotte or, at least, threatening to return its headquarters to Hampton, Va., as a way of getting a better deal.

CIAA spokesman Adrian Ferguson seemed miffed that anyone would even suggest such a thing.

“The CIAA doesn’t anticipate moving its headquarters or our tournament out of Charlotte,” Ferguson said. “Our contract has been set from the beginning.”

Yeah, but ...

I then asked Ferguson if conference officials had considered using the HB2 controversy – hey, everyone else is – to at least renegotiate the deal so it wouldn’t be so grotesquely one-sided.

His response? Crickets. I mean, the cat didn’t even deign to respond, as though the thought of them leaving their Charlotte overlords was a bad joke undeserving of a response.

The CIAA in 2014 re-upped for six more years of its unconscionably cockeyed contract with Charlotte, even though other cities – including Atlanta – had expressed interest in bidding for the weeklong basketball bacchanalia.

In reality, the bad joke is the deal the conference signed with Charlotte. The CIAA in 2014 re-upped for six more years of its unconscionably cockeyed contract with Charlotte, even though other cities – including Atlanta – had expressed interest in bidding for the weeklong basketball bacchanalia. The new contract netted the conference – dig this, y’all – $400,000 more per year. TO BE DIVIDED 12 WAYS!

Man, that’s chump change, especially when the CIAA is perpetually in debt and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority estimated in 2014 that the tournament brought in about $30 million in direct spending to the city during the week, more than $50 million in economic impact. The conference’s cut – again, to be split 12 ways – is $1.4 million. Oy!

Yet, the city shows its indifference – nay, antipathy – toward the conference attendees in ways big and small. Police shut off side streets so you have to drive miles in some instances just to make a turn. Hotels jack up their room and service rates, and even add a CIAA tax – a black tax? – to show just what they think of them. Last year, the coup de disgrace occurred when Charlotte’s city manager, Ron Carlee, declared the tournament an “exceptional event.”

That simply means, Carlee said, that police have expanded authority to search you if you look like a terrorist.

Don’t be surprised if next year the CIAA re-ups for six more years of such abuse.

One must consider all possibilities, and one possibility is that Charlotte officials are using Jedi mind tricks to keep the CIAA from removing its blinders. That would explain that dreadful deal, wouldn’t it?

Here’s a message to CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams: if you are being held hostage in Charlotte, the next time you’re on television, blink twice really quick, then three times really slowly.

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