National Invitation Tournament
Learn more about National Invitation Tournament
The National Invitation Tournament (NIT) is a men's college basketball tournament operated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The association plays two tournaments each season. The first is played in November and is known as the NIT Season Tip-Off (formerly the Preseason NIT), and was founded in 1985. The second is a post-season tournament played in March, with its final rounds in New York City and Madison Square Garden, and was founded in 1938. 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.
Originated by the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association in 1938, responsibility for administering the NIT 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 the five New York City schools: Fordham University, Manhattan College, New York University, St. John's University and Wagner College.
Originally all of the men's teams qualifying for the tournament were invited to New York City and all games were played at Madison Square Garden. In recent years, given the tremendous expansion of the field at the same time as interest in collegiate sports in general has declined in the Metropolitan New York area as interest in professional sports has increased, and interest in the NIT has declined as it has been dismissed as "playing for 66th place", earlier rounds are now played on campus sites and only the semi-final and final rounds are held at the Garden. C. M. Newton, an NCAA consultant, former basketball coach and former University of Kentucky athletic director, who is part of the NIT selection committee, has stated that he would like to restore the quarterfinal round to the Garden were it to become feasible.
In the tournaments' early years, the NIT often drew the nation's best collegiate basketball teams for several reasons. First, there was limited national media coverage of college basketball, therefore playing in New York City provided tremendous media exposure for the team and players. This allowed players hoping for a shot at the NBA an opportunity to play before scouts for the largely east coast dominated league. The media exposure also allowed coaches to recruit better basketball players. Second, the NCAA was originally a tournament among conference winners. Thus, the slots were filled by automatic qualifiers from little known conferences. However, many major universities such as Marquette, Notre Dame and DePaul did not belong to a conference. These "at large" teams were not allowed to participate in the NCAA. Third, many conferences such as the SEC were segregated, and allowing teams with black players to participate in the NCAA was problematic. 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 have played games further away from home than it would if it were in the Mideast Region. The team played the NIT instead, which they won. Such an action would be unthinkable today.
Beginning in the 1960s, however, the NCAA tournament gradually became the premier college tournament. The NCAA began expanding the field to include more conferences. Additionally, the NCAA tournament began awarding "at-large" bids to prominent teams. It also adopted national seeding to better balance its field, while at the same time placing powerful teams near their campuses in the early rounds whenever possible. Finally, the NCAA, being a national organization operating over the course of several months, was able to use television as a marketing tool. Over the course of two decades, the NIT was relegated to its current status as a "consolation" tournament. 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, and 40 teams from 2002 through 2006. The tournament will revert to 32 teams for 2007.
 NCAA takes control
In 2005, the NCAA purchased 10 year rights to the NIT tournament 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, and to testify in its behalf had subpoenaed Texas Tech coach and well-known NCAA critic Bobby Knight. (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 ten year duration.
 The stigma of the NIT
So strong is the stigma of the post-season National Invitation Tournament as a consolation fixture that when teams with tenuous hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth lose away from home late in the season, opposing fans chant "N-I-T! N-I-T!" to taunt the players in the closing seconds. 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 chant to a defeated team, "The three-letter word...was far more cutting than any four-letter word they could have hollered." source
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". David Thompson, an All-American player from N.C. State, called the NIT "a loser's tournament" in 1975. It has also been seen as nothing more than a tournament to see who the "66th best team" in the country is (since there are now 65 teams in the NCAA Tournament). 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 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 Terps were eliminated in the first round by the Manhattan College Jaspers.
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.
It should be noted that 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).
 Selection process
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 homecourt. The latter is one reason why New Mexico was invited virtually every year they had a winning season but failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament . Seeding considerations and home field 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. This may have an effect on the last few teams invited. However, in 2006, all teams qualifying for the NIT had a record greater than .500.
- All teams that won regular-season conference championships but failed to earn NCAA tournament bids are guaranteed places in the NIT. Thus, more teams from the low-major conferences may qualify. (Mid-major regular season conference champions have traditionally been invited.)
In addition, the selection process has been made transparent. ESPN will no longer help select the teams. Instead, a committee of six former NCAA head coaches, C. M. Newton (Alabama), Dean Smith (North Carolina), Don DeVoe (Tennessee), Reggie Minton, John Powers and Carroll Williams, 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 .
Furthermore, ESPN will continue 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." NIT Committee Chairman C. M. 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 were not going to play this thing for television and move games around." . Another positive consideration is that a #1-seeded team that goes to the semifinals will have three home games, which helps ticket sales.
Beginning with the 2007 NIT tournament, the field for the NIT will be reduced to 32 schools from 40, the number chosen since 2002. The tournament will feature four eight-team regions.
The new format — actually a return to the 32-team field used by the NIT from 1980-2001 — will eliminate the event's eight-game opening round, in which lower-seeded teams played for second-round berths against the eight highest seeds. The reduction will 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.
 Women's Tournaments
Since the 1970s, there has been a Women's National Invitation Tournament. It began as an eight-team tournament in Amarillo, Texas. However, this is affiliated with the NIT in name only. It was not connected with MIBA and was not purchased by the NCAA. The women currently play both pre- and post-season tournaments similar to the men.
 Men's post-season NIT championships
 External links
- Official Site of The National Invitation Tournament
- Bloomberg article on NCAA purchase and revamping of NIT
|National Invitation Tournament|
|1940s||1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949|
|1950s||1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959|
|1960s||1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969|
|1970s||1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979|
|1980s||1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989|
|1990s||1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999|
|2000s||2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006|