The Finale on CIAA Basketball Tournament Falls Short

When taking a stand for social justice goes wrong.

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association delivered the final episode of it’s three-week summer mini-series that played out like a Netflix original pilot aimed specifically at HBCU graduates and the winter party promoters who love us. The conference will keep its multi-million dollar asset, the CIAA Basketball Tournament, in Charlotte while moving every other championship game out of the state.

The thing about series finales is that viewers are generally left dissatisfied with endings that are expected but aren’t cleverly done, or endings that are so unexpected that they do not connect with the emotional arc of the storyline or its characters.

The CIAA pulled off the rare double flop with yesterday’s announcement, casually flinging a plot twist at media instead of speaking honestly and directly to fans about what the decision really means for them and for member schools. In an effort to come off as socially conscious, the conference came off as culturally disengaged, vision-deficient and corporately unimaginative.

With only a passing mention of HB2 and no mention of SB873 and its efforts to dismantle three conference institutions, no mention of the state’s move to legalize discrimination against black voters, or the police lynching of Keith Scott, the CIAA left fans with a hard-cut-to-black closing moment that attempted to be more ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ than ‘The Sopranos.’

‘The Sopranos’ allowed us to choose between sparing or executing Tony Soprano. You knew his story, and the writers and producers allowed us to choose our own adventure for his fate.

In lampooning the ‘Sopranos,’ the ‘Chris’ finale worked beautifully because the series that gave us insight into a black family and community that functioned and malfunctioned, shattered and fortified stereotypes, and destroyed and rebuilt itself at the same time, served as a backdrop to a finale we already knew.

We know Chris Rock to be one of the great comedians of all time. All we wanted from this series was to show us how he got there. The CIAA worked backwards with its finale to this saga; we wound up at a place we knew we would eventually see, but for reasons that we can’t be sure that they understand, and with an ending that doesn’t satisfy as a consequence for the state, or a nod to our own social justice advocacy.

CIAA officials and member presidents and chancellors can’t expect us to believe that moving eight financial non-starter championships from North Carolina sprints past the most important elements of the backstory; the conference is in a contract it cannot afford to break, and engulfed by social issues it cannot afford to ignore.

From the conference’s statement:

The CIAA Board recognizes that a single decision cannot offer a complete solution to a law that prevents communities from effectively protecting student-athletes and fans attending championships and events. The conference intends to increase its educational efforts to eliminate biases that exclude or marginalize any human being, regardless of one’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or physical disability. The Board’s decision allows the conference to fight against any measures which prevent the fulfillment of its mission to foster inclusive cultures for its student-athletes. With the student-athlete experience in mind, the conference is committed to protecting all of its championship events.

It is maddening to know that the CIAA’s finances are so jacked, they cannot even keep a lie straight in a press release vetted by dozens of executives, lawyers, and other corporate stakeholders. The conference vows protection for its students, but directly acknowledges that time (money) will not allow them to move an event that will make those same students vulnerable to more people, more media inquiry, more protestors, more camera phones, and more emotion that any other championship slated for relocation to Parts Unknown between Pennsylvania and Petersburg, Va?

The tweets from fans and alumni say it all.

Shaw University President Tashni-Ann Dubroy wrote earlier this week about the CIAA’s challenges in deciding to stay or to leave North Carolina. And she was spot on in her assessment; no one expects the CIAA to flip an event from which it only draws $1.4 million of the $50 million it turns for Charlotte, to now be aggressive about getting a deal that will probably will not come close what the conference now draws. That’s the backstory of which we’re all aware.

But we didn’t need a ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ conclusion to the story, we need a detailed explanation. How bad is the money that we as a conference, and as a race, we cannot walk away from a culture of racism layered over multiple areas of our lives and livelihood?

How much political pressure was there on CIAA presidents to vote on staying in order to show the world that the NBA, NCAA and ACC can take their money, but negroes were better off showing loyalty to a state that has ‘treated us well’ in Charlotte?

Did conference officials work with sponsors and stakeholders to raise money for a buyout of the contract? If the NBA could take the All-Star Game away from Michael Jordan, did we ask them, him, or anyone with money if they would be interested in helping us to make the right stand with the nation’s most recognizable black sports property? And if we did not ask for help, what is the reason, and why did officials not consider doing so in the spring?

Who thought that moving non-revenue title games and the football championship would be a socially-conscious substitute sweetener for the tea being poured all over North Carolina from events leaving and travel embargoes being levied against the state?

What happens if a CIAA patron self-identifying as transgender is prohibited from a bar or club? What happens if protests in support of LGBT rights and anti-police lynching erupt throughout tournament week, because its the only big tournament remaining in the state to which protestors from around the country can flock?

What happens if the least-expected outcome happens — black folks say enough is enough and actually stay home and refuse to give Charlotte money it hasn’t earned, but from many angles, expects us to spend freely regardless of the state’s racism and the city’s extortion of the CIAA’s brand power?

The finale did not help us out, even with its attempt at a plot kicker. We can only pray that the spinoff, debuting in Feb. 2017, does not devolve into a reality show that we all can see coming, but none of us wants to accept as the state of affairs for our HBCUs.

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