Despite solid attendance over the past two years at the North Charleston Coliseum, the Colonial Athletic Association’s men’s basketball tournament will find a new home outside of the Lowcountry beginning in 2020.
The conference is expected to move the tournament to the St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena — a newly built 4,200-seat facility — in Washington D.C. The three-year deal, which was approved by the league’s athletic directors in May, will run through the 2022 season. The plan was given its final approval by conference’s presidents during a meeting last week in Boston.
The North Charleston Coliseum, which has been the home to the CAA Tournament for the past two years, is in the final year of its contract with the league. The coliseum will host the tournament from March 8-11.
“The first two years in Charleston have gone very well,” CAA commissioner Joe D’Antonio said. “We’re certainly pleased with the support we’ve received from the community. You hear about the hospitality of Charleston and the Lowcountry, and it’s all true. We’ve enjoyed working with the folks at the North Charleston Coliseum, and (North Charleston) mayor (Keith) Summey has certainly been supportive of not only the event, but of the conference as a whole. It’s been a great working relationship.”
The College of Charleston, which advanced to the championship game in each of the two tournaments held at the North Charleston Coliseum, helped boost attendance for the event over the past two years. The tournament drew an average of 21,594 fans for the four-day event in its two years in North Charleston.
In the previous three years at the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, the average total tournament attendance was 18,005. The 21,941 fans who attended last year’s tournament were the most since 2013, when the event was held in Richmond, Va., and Virginia Commonwealth, George Mason and Old Dominion were still members of the conference.
The Cougars rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat Northeastern 83-76 in overtime to win the CAA title back in March and advance to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1999.
“Had that game been played somewhere else and we not had our fans behind us, I’m not sure we beat Northeastern,” said Matt Roberts, College of Charleston’s athletic director. “Those first two games of the tournament against Drexel and William & Mary were dogfights and our fans really pushed us over the top. Having it there made a significant difference. Of course, we’d love to have it back at the North Charleston Coliseum.”
Frank Lapsley, the general manager of the North Charleston Coliseum, confirmed that arena submitted a bid to continue to host the tournament for another three years.
D’Antonio said attendance figures only play a minor role in the decision of where a conference will hold its tournaments.
“We can’t make decisions like this based strictly on attendance,” D’Antonio said. “No disrespect to the schools in our conference, but if you had Hofstra and Northeastern playing in the championship game, we’re not to get the same attendance in Charleston that we’ve had the last two years. That’s not a knock of those schools. To be honest, it’s no different than any other tournament in the country except for maybe for the Big East or maybe the ACC tournaments. People go to those tournaments to go to that event.
“One of the biggest misnomers is that attendance determines the success of the tournament. Our first priority to provide a great experience for our student-athletes, the coaches and our fans. Don’t get me wrong, we’d love to have every game sold out, but from a particle standpoint, that’s not going to happen. We need control what we can control, and that’s providing a great experience for our student-athletes and our fans.”
The $65-million St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena is currently under construction with completion date set for September. The venue will be the home of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the Capital City Go-Gos, the NBA’s G-League franchise that is affiliated with the Washington Wizards.
“The Washington, D.C., location certainly is in the middle of the league’s footprint,” D’Antonio said.
In the past four years, most CAA Tournament games rarely draw more than 4,200 fans. However, four of the last five championship matchups have had more than 5,000 fans.