National Invitation Tournament
|Current season, competition or edition:|
2021 National Invitation Tournament
|Founder||Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association|
|No. of teams||32|
|Memphis (2nd title)|
|Most titles||St. John's (5 titles)|
|NIT Season Tip-Off|
NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship
College Basketball Invitational
CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament
The National Invitation Tournament (NIT) is a men's college basketball tournament operated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Played at regional sites and at Madison Square Garden (Final Four) in New York City each March and April, it was founded in 1938 and was originally the most prestigious post-season showcase for college basketball. The 2021 tournament, in which all games are being played in Denton and Frisco, Texas, marks the first time that the NIT's semifinals and championship games are not hosted at Madison Square Garden.
Over time it became eclipsed by the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament—now known informally as "March Madness". The NIT has since been regarded more as a tournament for teams that did not receive a berth in the NCAA tournament.
A second, much more recent "NIT" tournament is played in November and known as the NIT Season Tip-Off. Formerly the "Preseason NIT", it was founded in 1985. Like the postseason NIT, its final rounds are played at Madison Square Garden. Both tournaments were operated by the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association (MIBA) until 2005, when they were purchased by the NCAA, and the MIBA disbanded.
Unless otherwise qualified, the terms "NIT" or "National Invitation Tournament" refer to the post-season tournament in both common and official use.
The post-season National Invitation Tournament was founded in 1938 by the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association, one year after the NAIA Tournament was created by basketball's inventor Dr. James Naismith, and one year before the NCAA Tournament. The first NIT was won by the Temple University Owls over the Colorado Buffaloes.
Responsibility for the NIT's administration was transferred in 1940 to the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Committee, a body of local New York colleges: Fordham University, Manhattan College, New York University, St. John's University, and Wagner College. This became the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association (MIBA) in 1948.
Originally the tournament invited a field of six teams, with all games played at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.
The field was expanded to eight teams in 1941, 12 in 1949, 14 in 1965, 16 in 1968, 24 in 1979, 32 in 1980, and 40 from 2002 through 2006. In 2007, the tournament reverted to the current 32-team format; 2021 sees the field cut to 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Early advantages over the NCAA Tournament
In its early years, the NIT offered some advantages over the NCAA tournament:
- There was limited national media coverage of college basketball in the 1930s and 1940s, and playing in New York City provided teams greater media exposure, both with the general public and among high school prospects in its rich recruiting territory.
- The NCAA tournament selection committee invited only one team each from eight national regions, potentially leaving better quality selections and natural rivals out of its field, which would opt for the NIT.
From its onset and at least into the mid-1950s, the NIT was regarded as the most prestigious showcase for college basketball. All-American at Princeton and later NBA champion with the New York Knicks and United States Senator Bill Bradley stated:
In the 1940s, 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
Several teams played in both the NIT and NCAA tournaments in the same year, beginning with Colorado and Duquesne 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 not only the NCAA tournament, but also the subsequent Red Cross War Charities benefit game in which they defeated NIT champion St. John's at Madison Square Garden. In 1949, some Kentucky players were bribed by gamblers to lose their first round game in the NIT. This same Kentucky team went on to win the NCAA. 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 an NCAA committee 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. Premo-Porretta ranks four NCAA champions as the best for each season, the rest being non-championship winning teams. Between 1939 and 1970, when teams could compete in either tournament, only DePaul (1945), Utah (1947), San Francisco (1949) and Holy Cross (1954)  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, made in 1943.
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 could 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 institutions as the pre-eminent post season tournament, with conference champions and the majority of the top-ranked teams participating in it.
Nevertheless, 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 in 1971 that any school to which it offered a bid must accept it or be prohibited from participating in postseason competition, reducing the pool of teams that could accept an NIT invitation.
As the NCAA tournament expanded its field to include more teams, the reputation of the NIT suffered. In 1973, NBC moved televised coverage of the NCAA championship from Saturday afternoon to Monday evening, providing the NCAA Tournament with prime-time television exposure the NIT could not match. Even more crucially, when the NCAA eliminated the one-team-per-conference rule in 1975, its requirement that teams accept its bids relegated the NIT to a collection of teams that did not make the NCAA grade.
Compounding this, to cut costs, the NIT moved its early rounds out of Madison Square Garden in 1977, playing games at home sites until the later rounds. This further harmed the NIT's prestige, both regionalizing interest in it and marginalizing it by reducing its association with Madison Square Garden. By the mid-1980s, its transition to a secondary tournament for lesser teams was complete.
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 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", "Not Important 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, Georgetown, and LSU 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; there hung a banner for the UCLA's 1985 NIT championship until the 1995 NCAA championship banner replaced it. However, during the recent remodeling of Pauley Pavilion a plaque was installed along the concourse of the building commemorating the Bruins 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 University of Connecticut also regards the NIT as the beginning of its success. The NIT is also held in generally higher regard than the three newer tournaments that have debuted since 2008 (the current College Basketball Invitational and CollegeInsider.com Tournament, plus the Vegas 16, which folded after only one edition); Saint Bonaventure, a school that has a policy of refusing to play in those newer tournaments, still accepts bids to the NIT if invited.
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 now-defunct 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 often 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 or better record[clarification needed] to qualify for the NIT was imposed.
The NCAA announced a revamped selection process starting with the 2017 tournament. The main highlights are:
- Teams are no longer required to have .500 or greater records[clarification needed] to receive bids.
- 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 was changed. 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, the committee makeup was restructured; 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". Former NIT Committee chair and former Alabama and Vanderbilt head coach 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 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.
From 2007 to 2019, the 32-team field used from 1980 through 2001 is the same, eliminating the eight-game "play-in" opening round where teams played to qualify for second round games against the top eight seeds used 2002–2006. The tournament features four eight-team regions. There's one exception: 16 teams compete in 2021. The format won't affect the NIT's automatic bid to any regular-season conference champion that do not make the NCAA's field of 68, since 2011. Seven teams earned an NIT bid that way in 2006.
A new attendance record for an 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 an attendance total of 26,752. The previous 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; it is currently being run and operated by Triple Crown Sports.
Men's postseason NIT champions
- 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 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.
- NIT bids by school
- NIT championships and semifinal appearances
- NIT all-time team records
- National Commissioners Invitational Tournament
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The tournament now determines the national champion, but that wasn't always the case. Until the 1950s, the NIT was just as big a tournament as the NCAA, and teams often chose to enter the NIT and bypass the NCAA tourney
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- Peeler, Timothy M. (2010). "NC State Basketball: 100 Years of Innovation." University of North Carolina Press, The. p. 66. ISBN 9780807899700. "Despite winning the crown, the Red Terrors did not have a chance to play in the 1947 NCAA Tournament. Before the league's event began, NC State's newly named athletic director Jon Von Glahn was offered the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, contingent on [Everett] Case's team winning the league tournament. Instead he chose a spot in the more prestigious National Invitation Tournament. So the NCAA District 3 selection committee gave the area's bid to Carnevale's team from Navy."
- Chansky, Art (2006). "Blue Blood: Duke-Carolina: Inside the Most Storied Rivalry in College Hoops" Macmillan. p. 113. ISBN 0312327889. "The NCAA Tournament field had fluctuated between 22 and 25 teams since 1953, during which time the National Invitation Tournament remained prominent and, in the Northeast, actually bigger. ... The ACC, however, had an unwritten rule stemming from the point-shaving scandals of the last two decades that it would not send teams to the NIT. [Coach Victor] Bubas requested that the policy be changed in 1967, and it was. Duke accepted the ACC's first ever bid to the NIT, ..."
- Augustyn, Adam, ed. (2011). "The Britannica Guide to Basketball." Rosen Education Service. p. 17. ISBN 1615305289. "New York City basketball writers organized the first National Invitation Tournament (NIT) in 1938, but a year later the New York City colleges took control of the event. Until the early 1950s, the NIT was considered the most prestigious U.S. tournament ..."
- Roth, John (2006). "The Encyclopedia of Duke Basketball." Duke University Press. p. 272. "During its early years the [NCAA] tourney was overshadowed by the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) in New York."
- Glickman, Marty (1999). "The Fastest Kid on the Block: The Marty Glickman Story." Syracuse University Press. p. 75. ISBN 0815605749. "The first big tournament I covered was the 1946 National Invitation Tournament, the NIT, at Madison Square Garden. It, not the NCAA, was the big college basketball tournament in those days. Later the NCAA flexed its muscles to dominate college basketball, and the NIT became little more than an also-ran tourney. In its time, though, the NIT was enormous."
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