Remember in the Oscar-winning
movie Brokeback Mountain when an
anguished Jack told his pal Ennis "I wish I
knew how to quit you"?
Those are words some of us always expected the CIAA wanted to say to the city of Charlotte but never would.
Glory be, though: the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association has finally broken out of its exploitative love affair with the Queen City and will, beginning in 2021, take its lucrative tournament to Baltimore, a.k.a. Charm City.
You didn't need to be a professor of Psychology to see that the CIAA was ensnared - voluntarily and repeatedly - in a one-sided relationship that went something like this:
We'll bring to your city 150,000 people who will spend about $50 million directly and indirectly in your hotels, restaurants and shoppes - stuff costs more when you add that extra "pe" - and you'll give us $1.4 million in return.
No, not for each of us, silly: to be divided by the 12 member institutions of the CIAA.
Oh yeah, and you can disrespect us by, among other things, raising the price on everything, preventing our friends from visiting us in our hotel rooms, kicking us out of the hotel lobby - which is always where the real fun is anyway - and shutting down the city's side streets so that we have to drive five miles out of town in order to make a left turn.
Okay, perhaps CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams didn't sit down and agree to a contract with those stipulations spelled out, but anyone who has visited the tournament during its soon-to-be 15-year-run in Charlotte knows that is what the conference agreed to in principle.
You don't reckon the negotiators were victims of Stockholm Syndrome, do you?
I swear, at a press conference years ago announcing that the tournament was remaining in Charlotte despite being courted by several other cities, it looked like the commissioner was blinking out a "Please help us" signal.
The CIAA's board of directors must've noticed.
"Charlotte just wasn't bringing the love," board of directors chairman Dr. James Anderson (pictured above) told thesaundersreport.com recently.
Foregoing the usual chamber of commerce-speak that accompanies such a decision, Dr. Anderson broke it down as it has never before been broken. Anderson, who is chancellor of Fayetteville State University and a professor of Psychology, said the city and the Spectrum Center "made some decisions that really didn't benefit the CIAA, so we asked ourselves 'Why should we stay somewhere that really doesn't care for us to be there?'"
Those decisions included visiting such indignities upon the tournament as abruptly reducing the number of days vendors could sell their stuff at the arena - from six days to two - and bringing in Charlotte Hornets basketball games and rasslin' to the arena right smack dab in the midst of the CIAA Tournament.
In the past, he said, the Hornets always played out of town during the week of the tournament.
"Spectrum management acted like they didn't want us there, anyway. They never asked us if we were okay with that. How are you going to do that and we never had any discussions?" he asked.
"Mayor (Vi) Lyles and the CRVA (Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority) did their best, but there was really nothing they could do. They don't control the Spectrum Center," Anderson said.
He also noted something that we have harped upon for years: the pittance in scholarship money the tournament receives in comparison to the amount of money it brings in. Baltimore, he said, has agreed to increase the amount given in scholarships each of the first three years from $1.5 million, to $1.7 million to at least $1.9 million.
"That," Anderson said, "shows that Baltimore is at least moving in the direction we want to go."
Al Hutchinson, CEO of Visit Baltimore, said in a Baltimore Sun interview that the CIAA tournament "is our Super Bowl," and the city is acting like it.
You know how hotels in Charlotte have been busted over the years for price-gouging, adding mystifying CIAA surcharges to bills and generally treating their CIAA guests like interlopers who were to be tolerated rather than celebrated?
Anderson said Baltimore has assured them that won't happen there.
"Because the city owns a couple of the hotels, if they say that the hotel rate is going to be a certain amount, that's what it's going to be. All the other hotels were okay with saying they weren't going to price-gouge, as happened in Charlotte.
"In Charlotte, many of the alums would negotiate a rate four months in advance, then when they get there find out it's more" than the agreed upon rate, he said.
I know he ain't lyin', because some of those people complained to us over the years, too - and brought the receipts.
Laura Hill White, director of communications for the CRVA, said the city is "disappointed" that the tournament is leaving and has "cherished" it. White also said the city, in its bid to keep the tournament, "met their scholarship bid requirements at $1.5 million annually and provided an opportunity for the student-athletes to play in an NBA arena (something no other city could offer)."
Sorry, Queen City, but as Dr. Mable John - an early queen of R&B - sang, it looks like Your Good Thing Is About to Come to an End:
I don't have to beg you to hold me
cos somebody else will
You don't have to love me when I want it
cos somebody else...
Getting myself back together
is gonna be a big problem I know
But when the right (city) says it wants me
You can bet I won't say no.
Look out: your real good thing is about to come to an end.
Dr. Anderson made it clear that Charlotte could conceivably get the tournament back, but it's going to have to earn it.
I am proud of the CIAA, proud to see the tournament finally flex its financial muscle and not ask for respect, but demand it.
Who knows: in 2021, I might return to the tournament and break out that lime-green crushed velvet jumpsuit - like the one Fred "The Hammer" Williamson wore in The Big Payback - I wore to such great effect the last time it was in Raleigh.