It turns out people do appreciate the National Invitation Tournament after all, far more than universally assumed. All it took was a little postseason saturation-the same thing that college football somehow seems immune to.
This college basketball season was set to give us 164 teams in the postseason-nearly half of the 339 teams eligible for such distinction. It turns out, though, that just 144 teams will actually play after the new Vegas 16 event, which was supposed to have, you know, 16 teams, was reduced to eight teams (in the spirit of the Big 12 with 10 teams and the Big Ten with 14, why not?) and the CollegeInsider.com Tournament listed just 26 teams playing first round games instead of the 32 presumed.
The reason is because of a lack of interest in these events, which require schools to buy their way in for a fee. Some schools made the decision for financial reasons, some say it was a case-by-case basis, and multiple others have suddenly developed philosophies that they won’t play in any event but the NCAA Tournament or NIT.
Among the schools that have turned down opportunities in the CBI, CIT and/or Vegas 16: Boise State, Evansville, Illinois State, Kansas State, LSU, Marquette, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State, Southern Illinois, Stanford, Western Kentucky and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. That’s a hefty list.
It doesn’t take much time connecting dots to see a common thread through a number of these teams. Many are football members of NCAA Division I-A, or the “Football Bowl Subdivision.”
What is strikingly ironic is that many of the schools supposedly taking a stand against these tourneys are the same ones that will joyfully pay to play in a lower-tier college football bowl game. Bowl games require schools to absorb huge sums of money in purchasing tickets that often go unsold, yet these schools don’t bat an eyelash at that. But pay a few bucks for a tournament game.
Of course, bowls provide TV visibility. But the schools regularly tell us this is about the “student-athletes” first, right?
Anyway, fewer teams playing in the postseason isn’t a bad thing. Postseason play should be a well-earned reward. For a team like Grand Canyon-ineligible for the NCAA Tournament yet but with a 24-6 record-the CIT is great, as evidenced by the sellout crowd that watched the Antelopes hold off stubborn South Carolina State 78-74 Monday night for the school’s first Division I postseason win. For a team like LSU that so obviously disappointed this year, there’s no reason to be in the postseason just to keep up appearances.
Now, if only schools would be so principled about sending their 5-7 teams to bowl games.
- The CIT opened already with two games, and both results had historical significance. In addition to Grand Canyon’s win, Jackson State-which lost a draining one-point decision in the SWAC final just two days earlier-won at Sam Houston State 81-77 in overtime, the first postseason win for a SWAC team since Southern upset Georgia Tech in the 1993 NCAA Tournament and JSU also won at Connecticut in the first round of the NIT that year.
- Coaching changes continued on Monday. James Madison is parting ways with Matt Brady after the school never worked out a contract extension, a curious move given the Dukes won 21 games this year and were a serious threat to win the CAA until injuries became an issue. Other coaches out: Johnny Dawkins at Stanford, Trent Johnson at TCU, Bill Courtney at Cornell and Ed Conroy at Tulane.
- New Mexico guard Cullen Neal is transferring from the school where is father is the coach. As reported by the Albuquerque Journal, it’s been an eventful situation at the school, where coach Craig Neal said his son has been receiving death threats, though there are disputes about if this was reported by the Neals in a police meeting. Unfortunate situation all around, and an illustration of just how difficult it can be for sons to play for fathers in high-level college sports.
- The NCAA Tournament tips off with play-in games, or part of the First Four as they prefer you call it. Fairleigh Dickinson against Florida Gulf Coast is your first game, while Vanderbilt takes on Wichita State in the second.
- The College Basketball Invitational opens with Morehead State at Siena, with the Saints looking to score their second CBI title in three years.
- The CIT has three more games, all not bad matchups-Mercer at Coastal Carolina, Louisiana-Monroe going to Furman and two mighty improved teams this year with Ball State at Tennessee State.
Enjoy your Tuesday.