National Invitation Tournament
|Current season, competition or edition:
2015 National Invitation Tournament
National Invitation Tournament
|No. of teams||32|
|Most recent champion(s)||Stanford|
|Most titles||5 – St. John's|
|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|
The National Invitation Tournament (NIT) is a men's college basketball tournament operated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). There are two NIT events each season. The first, played in November and known as the 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 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 use, "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 founded by James Naismith in 1937. This first National Invitation Tournament was won by the Temple University Owls over the Colorado Buffaloes.
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 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. In 2007, the tournament reverted to the current 32 team format.
|“||In the 1940's, when the NCAA tournament was less than 10 years old, the National Invitation Tournament, a saturnalia held in New York at Madison Square Garden by the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association, was the most glamorous of the post-season tournaments and generally had the better teams. The winner of the National Invitation Tournament was regarded as more of a national champion than the actual, titular, national champion, or winner of the NCAA tournament.||”|
|— A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton|
In the early years of the tournament, some teams played in the NIT instead of the NCAA tournament for several reasons:
- The NCAA tournament committees selected only one team from each of eight nationally distributed regional districts leaving many highly regarded teams to play in the NIT.
- There was limited national media coverage of college basketball in the 1930s and '40s; therefore, playing in New York City provided additional media exposure for the teams, not only with the general public, but also among high school prospects in its rich recruiting territory.
- Some conferences, such as the Southeastern Conference, were segregated by race; therefore, hosting non-segregated games at their campus sites was problematic.[discuss]
Several teams played in both the NIT and NCAA tournaments in the same year, with Colorado and Duquesne being the first to do so in 1940. Colorado won the NIT in 1940 but subsequently finished fourth in the NCAA West Region. In 1944, Utah lost its first game in the NIT but then proceeded to win the NCAA Tournament not only the NCAA tournament, but also the subsequent Red Cross War Charities benefit game in which they defeated NIT champion St. Johns at Madison Square Garden. In 1949, eventual NCAA champion Kentucky suffered elimination in the NIT before going on to win the NCAA, although Kentucky's performance was tainted by a gambling scandal that resulted from the team throwing its first round NIT game. In 1950, City College of New York won both the NIT and the NCAA tournaments in the same season, coincidentally defeating Bradley University in the championship game of both tournaments, and remains the only school to accomplish that feat because of a rule change in the early 1950s prohibiting a team from competing in both tournaments.
The champions of both the NCAA and NIT tournaments played each other for a few years during World War II. From 1943 to 1945, the American Red Cross sponsored a postseason charity game between each year's tournament champions to raise money for the war effort. The series was described by Ray Meyer as not just benefit games, but as "really the games for the national championship". The NCAA champion prevailed in all three games.
The Helms Athletic Foundation retroactively selected the NIT champion as its national champion for 1938 (Temple), and chose the NIT champion over the NCAA champion once, in 1939 (Long Island). More recently, the mathematically based Premo-Porretta Power Poll published in the ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia retroactively ranked teams for each season prior to 1949, with the NIT champion finishing ahead of the NCAA champion in 1939 and 1941. Between 1939 and 1970, when teams could compete in either tournament, only DePaul (1945), Utah (1947), and San Francisco (1949) claim or celebrate national championships for their teams based solely on an NIT championship, although Long Island recognizes its selection as the 1939 national champion by the Helms Athletic Foundation.
In 1943 the NCAA tournament moved to share Madison Square Garden with the NIT in an effort to increase the credibility of the NCAA Tournament. In 1945, The New York Times indicated that many teams that could potentially get bids to enter either tournament, which was not uncommon in that day. In any case, since the mid-1950s, the NCAA tournament has been popularly regarded by most individuals as the major post season tourney, with conference champions and the majority of the top-ranked teams participating in it.
Nevertheless, the NIT continued to be regarded highly into the 1950s, with BYU claiming a national championship based on their 1951 NIT title. As late as 1970, Coach Al McGuire of Marquette, the 8th-ranked team in the final AP poll of the season, spurned an NCAA at-large invitation because the Warriors were going to be placed in the NCAA Midwest Regional (Fort Worth, Texas) instead of closer to home in the Mideast Regional (Dayton, Ohio). The team played in the NIT instead, which it won. This led the NCAA to decree that any school to which it offered a bid must accept it or be prohibited from participating in postseason competition.
As the NCAA over time expanded its field to include more teams, the reputation of the NIT suffered. When the NCAA eliminated the one-team-per-conference rule in 1975, the National Invitation Tournament had become merely a post-season showcase for good teams that did not make the NCAA grade.
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 gone 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. In addition, it argued that the NCAA's expansion of its tournament to 65 teams (68 since 2011) was designed specifically to bankrupt the NIT. Faced with the very real possibility of being found in violation of federal antitrust law for the third time in its history, the NCAA chose to settle. (The first two violations were related to restrictions on televising college football and capping assistant coach salaries.) As part of the purchase of the NIT by the NCAA, the MIBA disbanded.
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 chants of "NIT! 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." 
Because the post-season NIT consists of teams that failed to receive a berth in the NCAA Tournament, the NIT has been nicknamed the "Not Invited Tournament", "Never Important Tournament", "Nobody's Interested Tournament", "Needs Improvement Tournament", "No Important Team", "National Insignificant Tournament," or simply "Not In Tournament". It has also been called a tournament to see who the "69th best team" in the country is (since there are now 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament).
David Thompson, an All-American player from North Carolina State, called the NIT "a loser's tournament" in 1975. NC State, which had been the previous year's NCAA champion, refused to play in the tournament that year, following the precedent set by ACC rival Maryland the previous season after losing the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game to the top-ranked Wolfpack. 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 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 none of the postseason tournament's 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.
Beginning with the 2016 NIT restructured the committee makeup; Committee members will serve a maximum four-year term, and the committee will feature a mix of current athletics administrators who are actively working at NCAA schools or conferences and former head college basketball coaches. Previously, the NIT Committee had eight members, all of whom had been former head college basketball coaches or athletics directors. The previous structure had no term limits or succession plan.
ESPN continues to provide television coverage of the tournament. In 2011 the NCAA and ESPN agreed to a $500 million agreement through 2023–24 for rights to cover championships in several sports, including the NIT; 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 (since 2011, 68). Seven teams earned an NIT bid that way in 2006.
A new attendance record for a NIT game was set at Syracuse University's Carrier Dome on 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.
From 1969 to 1996, a National Women's Invitational Tournament (NWIT) existed; the tournament was resurrected under the same name in 1998, and has been known as the Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) since 1999. The original NWIT was an eight-team tournament held in Amarillo, Texas throughout its history. The revived tournament began with 16 teams, expanded to 32 in its second season, and has since expanded further to 40, 48, and (since 2010) 64 teams. However, the WNIT is affiliated with the NIT in name only. Neither the NWIT nor WNIT was connected with MIBA, and the WNIT 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 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
- 2014 NIT Tournament
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