- National Invitation Tournament
National Invitation Tournament
National Invitation Tournament
Sport Basketball Founded 1938 No. of teams 32 Most recent champion(s) Wichita State Shockers Most titles 6 – St. John's TV partner(s) ESPN Related competitions NIT Season Tip-Off
NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship
College Basketball Invitational
CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament
Founder Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association Official website http://www.ncaa.com/championships/basketball-men/nit
The National Invitation Tournament (NIT) is a men's college basketball tournament operated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. There are two NIT events each season. The first, played in November and known as the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off (formerly the Preseason NIT), was founded in 1985. The second, the original NIT, is a post-season tournament played in March and April that is now called the MasterCard NIT; it was founded in 1938. In both cases, the final rounds of the tournament are played at Madison Square Garden in New York City. In both common and official usage, "NIT" or "National Invitation Tournament" refers to the post-season tournament unless otherwise qualified. Both the pre- and post-season tournaments were operated by the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association (MIBA) up until 2005, when they were purchased by the NCAA.
The post-season NIT, started in 1938, pre-dates the NCAA Tournament by one year and is second in age only to the NAIA Tournament, which was founded by James Naismith in 1937. This first National Invitation Tournament was won by the Temple University Owls over Colorado.
The NIT was originated by the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association in 1938. Responsibility for its administration was transferred two years later to local colleges, first known as the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Committee and in 1948, as the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association (MIBA), which comprised representatives from five New York City schools: Fordham University, Manhattan College, New York University, St. John's University and Wagner College. Originally all of the teams qualifying for the tournament were invited to New York City, and all games were played at Madison Square Garden.
The men's tournament originally consisted of only 6 teams, which later expanded to 8 teams in 1941, 12 teams in 1949, 14 teams in 1965, 16 teams in 1968, 24 teams in 1979, 32 teams in 1980, 40 teams from 2002 through 2005, and 64 teams in 2006. The tournament reverted to 32 teams for 2007.
In the tournaments' early years, the NIT often drew some of the nation's best collegiate basketball teams for several reasons. First, there was limited national media coverage of college basketball, therefore playing in "The Big Apple" provided tremendous media exposure for the team and players. This facilitated coaches exposure to the rich recruiting territory of New York City and allowed for players hoping for a shot at the NBA an opportunity to play before scouts in the largely east coast dominated league. Additionally, the NCAA was originally a tournament mostly among conference winners. Thus, the slots were limited as teams were selected from conferences and regional champions and multiple teams from the same conferences were not allowed. In addition, many Eastern teams, who were mainly independents, preferred the reduced travel of playing closer to home in the NIT.
During the NIT's first 15 years or so, the winners were hailed as National Champions by some, and dispute surrounded which tournament champion was superior. The Helms Athletic Foundation, which independently selected an annual college basketball national champion, chose the NIT champion over the NCAA champion only once, in 1939, while selecting neither tournament champion three times (1940, 1944, 1954). In addition, from 1943 to 1945 during World War II, the American Red Cross sponsored a game between that year's NCAA and NIT champions to raise money for the war effort. In all three years that the charity contest was played, the NCAA champion prevailed.
Several teams played in both tournaments in the same year. Duquesne in 1940 was the first to do so. In 1944 and 1948, the NCAA tournament champions lost their first games in the NIT tournament. In 1950, City College of New York won both the NIT and the NCAA tournaments in the same season and remains the only school to accomplish that feat. By the late 1960s, however, the NCAA tournament was becoming the unquestioned premier college tournament. The NCAA began expanding the field to include more teams, and over time the NIT was relegated more and more to its current status as a "consolation" tournament. However, as late as 1970, Coach Al McGuire of Marquette, the 8th-ranked team in the final AP poll of the season, spurned an NCAA bid in protest of his team's placement in the Midwest Region, where his team would have to play games farther away from home than it would if it were in the Mideast Region. The team played in the NIT instead, which it won. Such an action would be a violation of NCAA rules today, which prohibits the rejection of NCAA tournament bids.
NCAA takes control
In 2005, the NCAA purchased 10-year rights to the NIT from the MIBA for $56.5 million to settle an antitrust lawsuit, which had actually come to trial and was being argued until very shortly before the settlement was announced. The MIBA alleged that compelling teams to accept invitations to the NCAA tournament even if they preferred to play in the NIT was an illegal use of the NCAA's powers. (This rule was instituted after Al McGuire's aforementioned snub in 1970.) In addition, it argued that the NCAA's expansion of its tournament to 65 teams was designed specifically to bankrupt the NIT. As part of the purchase of the NIT by the NCAA, the MIBA disbanded for the 10-year duration.
The reputation of the NIT
The status of the post-season National Invitation Tournament as a "consolation" fixture has led to somewhat of a stigma in the minds of many fans. When teams with tenuous hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth lose away from home late in the season, opposing fans may taunt the players in the closing seconds with the prospect of having to play in the NIT. This is done regardless of whether the home team is headed for the NCAA Tournament or not. Irv Moss, a journalist for the Denver Post, once wrote of such a taunt to a defeated team, "The three-letter word... was far more cutting than any four-letter word they could have hollered." 
Since the post-season NIT consists of teams who failed to receive a berth in the NCAA Tournament, the NIT has been humorously nicknamed the "Not Invited Tournament", "Never Important Tournament", "Nobody's Interested Tournament", "No Important Team", "National Insignificant Tournament," or simply "Not In Tournament". It has also been seen as nothing more than a tournament to see who the "69th best team" in the country is (since there are now 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament). Since the postseason NIT includes a third-place game, that contest might be considered "the consolation game within the consolation tournament".
However, proponents of the NIT often point out that many of the NCAA Tournament participants likely would not win the NIT. Because 31 of the teams earn automatic bids in the NCAA Tournament (regardless of their national ranking), the claim that the NIT determines the "69th best team" can be seen as spurious since an automatic bid NCAA Tournament team may be weaker than a NIT team.
David Thompson, an All-American player from North Carolina State, called the NIT "a loser's tournament" in 1975. N.C. State, which had been the previous year's NCAA champion, refused to play in the tournament that year, setting something of a precedent. In succeeding years, other teams such as Oklahoma State, Louisville, Georgia Tech, and Georgetown have declined to play in the NIT when they did not make the NCAA tournament. One such team was Maryland; after being rejected by the NCAA selection committee in 2006, head coach Gary Williams announced that 19-11 Maryland would not go to the NIT, only to be told that the university had previously agreed to use Comcast Center as a venue for the NIT. The Terrapins were eliminated in the first round by the Manhattan College Jaspers. In 2008, however, Williams announced that if invited, the Terps would play, because it would serve as a chance to further develop six freshman players on his squad and to give senior forward James Gist more exposure. At UCLA's famous Pauley Pavilion, there are individual championship banners for all 11 NCAA titles, various other banners touting many other NCAA and other tournament championships for other sports, but no mention of UCLA's 1985 NIT championship.
For other teams, however, the NIT is perceived as a step up in a program climbing from mediocrity or obscurity, and the response is more enthusiastic. For example, at the University of Tulsa, which won the NIT in 1981 and 2001, the Golden Hurricane's NIT "championship tradition" is viewed with pride and as a "lure" for players to join the program.
The NIT Season Tip-Off carries no such stigma, and is one of many popular season-opening tournaments held every year around the country (alongside events such as the Maui Invitational and the Great Alaska Shootout).
In the past, NIT teams were selected in consultation with ESPN, the television home of the NIT . The goal of the NIT was to sustain the MIBA financially. Therefore, schools selected to play in the NIT were often major conference teams with records near .500 that had large television fan bases and would likely have a respectable attendance for tournament games on their home court. The latter is one reason why New Mexico was invited virtually every year the Lobos had a winning season but failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Seeding considerations and home court advantage included the number of fans willing to show up to each game. In an effort to maintain some quality, a rule saying that a team must have a .500 record to qualify for the NIT was imposed. This prevented ESPN from suggesting major conference teams that finished at or very near the bottom of their conference standings but would likely garner good fan interest.
The NCAA announced a revamped selection process starting with the 2006 tournament. The main highlights are:
- Teams are no longer required to have .500 or greater records to receive bids. Even with this change, however, all teams receiving invitations for the NIT have had .500 or greater records.
- Similar to the automatic bids the NCAA Tournament grants for all conference tournament champions, all teams that won regular-season conference championships but failed to earn NCAA tournament bids are guaranteed places in the NIT.
In addition, the selection process has been made transparent. ESPN no longer had a hand in the selection of the teams. Instead, a committee of former NCAA head coaches, chaired by Newton, and including Gene Keady (Purdue), Don DeVoe (Tennessee), Rudy Davalos, Les Robinson (NC State), Reggie Minton (Air Force), John Powers and Carroll Williams among others, prepared a list of potential teams in advance. The seeding and balancing process is similar to that of the NCAA tournament, with the exception that higher seeded teams will always host games, unless extenuating circumstances occur. In the past, higher seeded mid-major teams would often be forced to travel to play less highly regarded major conference teams that would be likely to sell more tickets to the game.
ESPN continues to provide television coverage of the tournament. The NIT has a 10-year, $24.1 million contract with ESPN; this compares with the 11-year, $6.2 billion TV contract with CBS for the NCAA tournament.
These changes are intended to encourage participation by good college teams that would rather stay home than play in the NIT – to make it the "Little Dance" instead of the "loser's tournament." Newton stated, "What we want to have is a true basketball event, a real tournament, one where there's no preconceived ideas of who gets to New York. We'd love to have great crowds, but this is not a financial consideration. We want good television coverage, but we're not going to play this thing for television and move games around."  Another consideration is that a number one-seeded team that goes to the semifinals will have three home games, which helps ticket sales.
Beginning with the 2007 tournament, the field for the NIT returned to the 32-team field used from 1980 through 2001, eliminating the eight "play-in" opening round where teams played to qualify for second round games against the top eight seeds. The tournament features four eight-team regions. The format did not affect the NIT's automatic bid to any regular-season conference champion that does not make the NCAA's field of 65. Seven teams earned an NIT bid that way in 2006.
A new attendance record for a NIT game was set at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY, March 19, 2007, at the Syracuse-San Diego State game. Syracuse won the game 80-64 with the attendance total of 26,752. The old record of 23,522 was set by Kentucky in 1979.
Since the 1970s, there has been a Women's National Invitation Tournament. It began as an eight-team tournament in Amarillo, Texas, expanding to 64 teams by 2010. However, this is affiliated with the NIT in name only. It was not connected with MIBA and was not purchased by the NCAA.
Men's Post-season NIT Championships
- ^ St. John's won the 2003 NIT title, but later vacated the title due to an ineligible player.
- ^ Marcus Hatten of St. John's was the MVP of the 2003 tournament, but vacated the award with St. John's title.
- ^ Minnesota won the 1998 NIT title, but later vacated the title and forfeited its entire 1997-98 schedule due to academic fraud.
- ^ Kevin Clark of Minnesota was the MVP of the 1998 tournament, but vacated the award with Minnesota's title.
- ^ Michigan won the 1997 NIT title, but later vacated the title and forfeited its entire 1996-97 schedule due to ineligible players.
- ^ Robert Traylor of Michigan was the MVP of the 1997 tournament, but was later declared ineligible and his award vacated.
- ^ NCAA buys tournaments, ends NIT litigation
- ^ NIT's postseason field cut to 32 teams
- ^ "Rauzulu's Street: Helms Foundation NCAA Division I Champions". http://www.rauzulusstreet.com/basketball/college/helmscollegechampionship.htm. Retrieved 2009-03-05.
- ^ 2008 NCAA Basketball Records Book: Division I Championship, page 256, accessdate=2009-04-02
- ^ "NCAA Tournament History". http://www.tourneytravel.com/history/index.htm. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
- ^ Douchant, Mike (March 11, 2003). "MARCH MADNESS: Growth of NCAA Tournament. Final Four Hasn't Always Been What it is Today". The Official Website of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. http://www.nabc.org/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/031103aaa.html. Retrieved 2010-09-30.
- ^ 
- ^ ."Cowboys in shocker", Denver Post, March 10, 2006.
- ^ Pascoe, Bruce (March 14, 2010). "Cats hold breath: Is it NIT or not?". Arizona Daily Star: p. C1. http://www.azstarnet.com/sports/basketball/college/wildcats/article_0d9ed396-bdf7-5722-9bbc-9af5be5b9985.html.
- ^ Prisbell, Eric. "Terps Can't Help Themselves", Washington Post, March 14, 2008, page E01.
- ^ Eric Bailey, "Long and happy history: Two NIT titles precede Tulsa's appearance", Tulsa World, March 18, 2009.
- ^ "Lobos put right foot in NIT with Utah win", Albuquerque Tribune, March 4, 2006.
- ^ "Supporters of buyout expect improved NIT", USA Today, August 17, 2005.
- ^ "March Madness Swells as NCAA Pumps Up NIT Tournament", Bloomberg.com, March 14, 2006.
- Official Site of The National Invitation Tournament
- Bloomberg article on NCAA purchase and revamping of NIT
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