By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
Despite the announcement of a COVID-19 vaccine, the pandemic has forced the cancellation of yet another major HBCU sporting event. The 2021 CIAA Basketball will not be played in Baltimore in February. This would have been the first of a three year run as the event returned to Charm City for the first time since 1952, when Morgan State was a member of the conference.
Baltimore lost its opportunity to host the tournament, which was scheduled for Royal Farms Arena from Feb. 23 – 27. The CIAA conference basketball season was scheduled to begin Jan. 9. However, teams who have scheduled non-conference games can finish the remainder of that schedule through Jan. 8 as the remainder of their winter sports season is suspended also.
“Unfortunately, COVID-19 continues to challenge the conference’s ability to see a clear path to move forward collectively,” said CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams. “The impact to health and wellness, community concerns, as well as the economic ramifications are real.”
The conference hoped that moving the tournament from Charlotte, N.C. to Charm City would bring the northern fans from New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia to one of the largest college basketball tournaments in the nation to downtown Baltimore. In addition to being the largest tournament in NCAA Division II, the CIAA reportedly had an annual business impact of over $30 million in tourism during a 15-year run in the Queen City during what is a dormant travel week for most cities.
“Visit Baltimore stands behind the CIAA’s decision to cancel the 2021 basketball tournament in Baltimore,” said Al Hutchinson, president and CEO at Visit Baltimore, organizers of the local host committee. “The health of players, coaches and fans is of the utmost importance, and we support the commissioner and board of directors in their efforts to bend the COVID curve. Baltimore’s hospitality community was extremely excited about bringing the tournament experience to Charm City next year, but we look forward to our continued partnership with the CIAA and to celebrating the incredible academic contributions, culture and sports legacy of HBCUs.”
Virginia State had taken the lead by previously cancelling their winter sports schedule in early December and the rest of the council followed the precedent that was set by the University whose leader is the chairman of the conference Board of Directors.
“This was not an easy decision or one that was taken lightly by the CIAA Board,” said Virginia State University President and CIAA Board Chair Dr. Makola Abdullah. “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.”
Despite the cancellation of the basketball tournament and its local festivities, the conference announced plans to engage fans during the traditional tournament week with a virtual experience. The virtual platform will allow the conference to continue hosting a stable of ancillary events, which have become synonymous with tournament week, such as CIAA Fan Fest and the CIAA Step Show. A full schedule of virtual events is expected to be released at a later date.