The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s board of directors announced on Monday that its 2021 men’s and women’s basketball season, along with its nationally recognized tournament, is cancelled “due to growing concerns related to COVID-19.”

The tournament was slated to take place next year in Baltimore, after a 15-year stay in Charlotte.

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 continues to challenge the conference’s ability to see a clear path to move forward collectively,” CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams said in a statement on the storied athletic conference’s website. “The impact to health and wellness, community concerns, as well as the economic ramifications are real. I want to commend our board of directors for exemplifying courageous leadership in college sports to ensure the well-being of the CIAA as well as the health and safety of our student-athletes and communities.”

The board also voted to cancel the women’s volleyball season, which had been moved from spring to fall, according to the conference website.

Triangle ties to CIAA basketball run deep.

Among the conference’s 12 historically black colleges and universities are Raleigh’s Shaw and St. Augustine’s universities. School officials could not be immediately reached for comment  Monday. However, notification of the cancelled seasons and tournament appear on both schools’ athletics websites.

Durham’s N.C. Central University was twice a member before initially leaving in 1970 and again in 2007, when it was reclassified as a Division I school and moved to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Founded in 1912, the CIAA is the nation’s first and longest running African American athletic conference. Its basketball luminaries include former North Carolina College (now NCCU) Coach John McLendon, a Naismith Hall of Famer, who was a student of the game’s founder. While coaching at Central from 1940 until 1952, McLendon’s teams had a 239 and 68 win-loss record.

It’s almost impossible to talk about basketball without citing McLendon’s lasting influence on the game. According to the school’s website, McLendon is credited with pioneering the full-court game; developing  the full court press, the full court zone (now known as the zone press), the open center of­fense and the “four corners” offense made famous by former UNC-Chapel basketball coach Dean Smith and point guard Phil Ford.

Other giants of CIAA hoops tradition include former Winston-Salem State University Coach Clarence “Bighouse” Gaines, Norfolk State’s Bobby Dandridge, N.C. A&T’s Alvin “Al” Attles, Virginia Union’s Charles Oakley and Albert “A.J.” English, Shaw’s Flip Murray, and perhaps the greatest of them all, NBA Hall of Famer Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, who averaged more than 41 points a game his senior year at Winston-Salem State.

The CIAA was the first Division II conference to have its tournament televised as part of ESPN’s Championship Week. And with estimates of over 100,000 people in attendance during the week of the tournament, it has become one of the nation’s largest college basketball showcases.

Economically speaking, the annual conference tournament held in late February punches well above its weight. CIAA officials point to a survey that found the 2019 event had a  $43.7 million economic impact for the Queen City. During its 15 years in Charlotte, the tournament had an average annual economic impact of $55 million.

Over the decades, the tournament has taken place in Norfolk and Richmond Va., Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Winston-Salem, and Durham. The event moved to Raleigh in 2000, before leaving for Charlotte in 2006.

“This was not an easy decision or one that was taken lightly by the CIAA Board,” Virginia State University President and CIAA Board Chair Dr. Makola Abdullah said in the conference’s website announcement Monday. “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.”

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.