By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
The Southwestern Athletic Conference was in Birmingham Tuesday conducting its football media day, but basketball crept into the conversation with the announcement that the SWAC basketball championship will be in Birmingham.
Commissioner Charles McClelland said the conference and city of Birmingham have an agreement to play hoops title games in the Magic City the next five years.
“Although the deal has not been signed for basketball, we do have an agreement in principle,” McClelland said at The Westin Birmingham Hotel. “We still have some more hurdles we have to jump, but we’re looking at a five-year commitment to the city of Birmingham.
“We had to value what our worth was,” McClelland continued. “No longer are we going to just go to a city and pay for everything. We want cities to invest in us, and the city of Birmingham has stepped up tremendously.”
Later, the commissioner told Alabama NewsCenter that the league’s aim is for its championships to be a good experience for student athletes. To do that, he said, cities have to be “intricately involved in that process.”
Birmingham filled the bill.
“Birmingham provided us with the best opportunity to have that type support that we need,” he said. “We want to have a first-class basketball tournament. We want to do everything the NCAA does for their tournament. That costs money. That costs a lot of time, a lot of effort. Birmingham has given us those things in order for us to put on a successful tournament.”
McClelland acknowledged that Birmingham is a long distance from SWAC schools in Texas. He said the league recently signed a deal with CityJet to be its travel partner.
“It’s opportunities that we can fly them in,” he said. “It’s an all-collaborative, cohesive process, but Birmingham has been a true partner. They’ve been a strategic partner. When we reached out to them, they came back with a proposal.
“We have to get some T’s crossed and some I’s dotted. The deal isn’t done yet,” McClelland said. “But they are the winner of our bid process, and as soon as we can get the deal done, we’ll be ecstatic and make a formal announcement.”
The commissioner said Legacy Arena at the BJCC is too large for SWAC’s basketball event. He said there are several venues within Birmingham for the league’s consideration.
“We’ll have a team go out and assess what will be the best fit for the Southwestern Athletic Conference,” he said. “Again, it’s a great thought process from Birmingham to be able to have multiple venues to be able to look at and choose from.”