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CIAA Tournament a fit for Charlotte

Kerry likes what city does for league

CIAA commissioner Leon Kerry sat down with staff sports columnist Scott Fowler on Monday, the day before the league's 64th basketball tournament began. Kerry, a former high school middle linebacker, has been the CIAA's commissioner since 1990.

The CIAA Tournament begins today at Time Warner Cable Arena in uptown Charlotte and continues through the finals on Saturday. A question-and-answer session with Kerry is below, edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: If you were going to describe the CIAA Tournament to someone who has never been, what would you say?

A: I'd say it's a family reunion. If you want to see people you went to school with, you've got to come to the CIAA. We always say, 'If you come to just one CIAA Tournament, we've got you hooked for life.' People have fun. They go to parties. They see great basketball. And the byproduct of the basketball is scholarships and also the job fair we hold. The tournament means a lot to a lot of different people.

Q: This is the fourth year of the CIAA Tournament in Charlotte, and you've signed a contract that carries it through 2011 here. Do you think the tournament will continue in Charlotte after that contract expires?

A: We'll see what happens, but I'm not opposed to it. We've got to see if the city wants us here and the hotels want us here. But I like Charlotte. Charlotte has made the CIAA a destination. It helped us get sponsors we had never had before.

Q: What changes will we see this year?

A: The tournament is a day shorter. Even before the economy became like this, there was a lot of lag time. So we've shortened the week to keep the students in school one more day. And this year we're doing everything we could to drive people to the arena. Last year, we tried everything we could to drive people to Charlotte. This year and the next couple of years, we want to drive people into the arena, with the halftime concerts and giveaways and the Kiss Cam and things like that.

Q: What sort of impact will the economic downturn have?

A: It will have an impact. I don't know how much. I do know we have 93 percent [uptown hotel] occupancy.

Q: The CIAA has lost a couple of its marquee schools -- N.C. Central and Winston-Salem State -- in recent years. Is this a conference in transition?

A: I think the transition time was when we lost them. We're past that. Now I'm back at 12 schools [10 will compete in the 2009 tournament, and Lincoln (Pa.) and Chowan join the basketball tournanent field in 2010]. We could be at 14 schools next year -- we really could.

If I had my druthers, I'd like to get someone in Atlanta. Then we could go from the Philadelphia market all the way down to Atlanta. I don't know if it will happen. The ones I want, they don't want to make a move now.

Q: How long would you like to serve as CIAA commissioner?

A: I'm 60 now -- I don't know. My contract is over in 2012. I'm not going to say that's it, though. I could be here until I'm 70, or I could be done tomorrow. As long as it's moving in the right direction and I'm healthy, I'm not ready to come home yet.

Q: What other sorts of things are you concentrating on this year?

A: We've realized that 62 percent of our fans are female, so there are more things that are woman-oriented, like the health symposium we're doing. We're trying to focus on our core audience. This really is a reunion, but there's something for everyone here. See some good basketball. Have some fun. When it's all over, we'll party together and then go home.
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