By STEVE REED
AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Earl Monroe still comes back to the CIAA basketball tournament.
Charles Oakley, Sam Jones, Ben Wallace, Ronald “Flip” Murray and even former Harlem Globetrotter Curly Neal can’t seem to stay away either.
While they’re not playing, new CIAA Commissioner Jacqie Carpenter hopes fans start attending more games, rather than just the parties associated with the tournament to help the historically black conference erase a $200,000 deficit.
The tournament tips off this week and the 200,000 fans that will descend on Charlotte want to be a part of all the events — though many stay away from the games held at the city’s downtown arena, which is home to the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats.
Carpenter, the CIAA’s first appointed female commissioner, said the goal is to get out of the red “within a couple of years” and hopes the conference can get a jumpstart with this week’s ticket sales to the third-largest basketball tournament in the country behind only the ACC and Big East.
One reason for the huge attendance is the opportunity for CIAA alumni to fellowship, the event has a reunion feel to it. And the entertainment has often been better than the basketball: The CIAA tournament routinely features Grammy-winning artists, but has been short on NBA-caliber talent.
The last CIAA player drafted by the NBA was Murray, and that was back in 2002.
With the parity that pervades Division I college basketball, the talent level has clearly dropped off at the Division II level in the last decade.
So getting people in the doors is a challenge. The CIAA did get more creative this year with a new ticketing strategy which allows fans the ability to purchase one ticket that’ll get them into all games.
When Carpenter took over last summer the CIAA faced a $500,000 debt as a result of the lack of ticket sales, a decline in sponsorships, and unexpected legal fees. All 12 schools donated $25,000 to cut that deficit by more than half.
But the commissioner knows there’s more work to be done.
She said the CIAA needs to become “more fiscally responsible” and creative to make the tournament more attractive to sponsors.
“We have to look at ways of cutting back and look at sponsorship more closely to make sure they see value in our conference,” Carpenter said. “That’s something I work on every day. How can we make it fiscally responsible to get out of the red, and how to get it back in the black?”
Carpenter wants to work closer with the City of Charlotte to tie corresponding events back to the CIAA to create a better profit and “protect our brand.”
She said the CIAA has also trimmed unnecessary travel expenses for its staff this year and cut down on media credentials to save money.
“Based on our budget I think we will be fine,” Carpenter said. “We’ve made a lot of changes.”
Another change could be on the horizon soon.
The CIAA’s contract with Charlotte to host the tournament expires in 2014.
Carpenter said much of this spring will involve discussions about the future of the tournament, which has been held in Charlotte for the past eight years.
She mentioned Raleigh and Winston-Salem as potential candidates, along with renewing in Charlotte.
“We want to make sure the CIAA tournament is about the official event, the basketball tournament,” Carpenter said. “My hope is that we can gain better control of our inventory. We want to work with city to have venues for events in the city so it is directly impacting the CIAA.”
Mike Butts, the vice president of sales for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, said the goal is to keep the tournament in Charlotte.
The tournament generated $50.5 million in revenue for Charlotte last year alone.
“We are very anxious to continue the partnership with the CIAA and extend that agreement,” Butts said. “We feel that having the tournament here as an annual event is great for hotels, restaurants and businesses. And we love having them here.”
Another long-term goal for Carpenter is to ensure the younger generation of CIAA alum return to the annual event — just as the legends like Oakley, Monroe and Jones have done for years.
“We have a special unique legacy,” said Carpenter, who played basketball and volleyball at Hampton University. “We have folks like Earl Monroe who come back and people like Clarence “Big House” Gaines who’ll always be loved and remembered. There is history there.”
“This is essentially a family reunion and an opportunity for older fans to meet up with each other. The older generation understands what it took to get to this point. Hopefully we can take this younger generation and make sure they want to come back so the CIAA continues to thrive.”