MEAC Hopes To Measure Up To CIAA Tournament In Future
Posted March 11, 2006 6:36 a.m. EST
RALEIGH, N.C. — If there is a home team favorite in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, it would be North Carolina A & T from Greensboro. But Raleigh is rooting for the whole conference. The historically black schools moved their tournament to the Capitol City this year, replacing the CIAA, which went to Charlotte.
"Anything that comes to the area is good to see," said A&T fan Eric Shields. "It brings notoriety and more people into town. So I'm glad the MEAC chose Raleigh. It's only going to get bigger and better."
A sparse, but enthusiastic crowd cheered on the cheerleaders before the semifinal games. And while organizers don't want to compare the MEAC to the CIAA, it's hard not to.
According to the Raleigh Convention and Visitor's Bureau, in its first year in 2000, the CIAA drew 55,000 people to Raleigh. This year, they're hoping the MEAC will draw just 17,000. But that doesn't mean organizers are calling it a failure. They're looking at the big picture, and future fans are expecting the MEAC to explode in popularity.
One of the main reasons is that the MEAC is Division I. The winner of the tournament goes to the NCAA tournament. That's a bragging right the Division II CIAA doesn't have. And fans who have seen both tournaments in Raleigh are willing to wait, at least a little while, for bigger crowds.
"First year in Raleigh, so I'm going to give them till next year to compete with the CIAA," said A&T fan Dexter Vines.
"With anything, it's got to take time," said Shields. "You can't expect success overnight, so it's going to have to grow."
Organizers will be dancing if next year's numbers reflect that growth. Winston-Salem State will join the conference next season. N.C. Central is in the process of making the jump in another 3-5 years.