Another Three-Letter Tourney Leaves One Three-Letter Question: Why?
In 1970, 8th-ranked Marquette rejected a berth in the NCAA Tournament because the committee placed the Golden Eagles in a region far away from their Milwaukee fan base (another issue was the 16 slots were filled by automatic qualifiers from conferences and many large private universities such as Marquette, Notre Dame and DePaul did not belong to a conference) and head coach Al McGuire decided to enter (and eventually win) the post-season NIT. This form of protest to the NCAA selection process is a violation of NCAA rules.
Thirty-seven years later we have two post-season events (in addition to the NCAA Tournament), one of which is owned by the NCAA, and the drama of picking between the two won’t be close to what it once was because now fans couldn’t care less about either event. Without the drama, the conflict appears similar to just pity bickering between neighbors and doesn’t serve a purpose. So I ask you, the fans of college basketball, what’s the point of the new College Basketball Invitational?
The 16-team CBI will be staged in March by The Gazelle Group, which is based in Princeton, N.J. and runs the 2K Sports College Hoop Classic that benefits Coaches vs. Cancer and the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic.
Big East commissioner Michael Tranghese said in an interview with the Associated Press that his schools “are free to go and play in any event. I just don’t know if there’s a market for a third tournament, but this is the land of opportunity.”
Translation: I can’t stop you but I’m pretty darn sure our schools will accept a bid with the more tradition-rich, nationally-televised NIT. (Oh yeah I forgot to mention this new tournament doesn’t have a TV deal yet, good luck with that by the way).
The new post-season tournament will now make it 113 Division I teams that are playing basketball following the regular season or conference tournament. That’s exactly one-third of the schools. At this point, aren’t college basketball officials becoming hypocritical when they call the football bowl system the party for the world’s tallest midgets?
“We think this is a promising turn of events given the contraction of the NIT a year ago and the impact that had on mid-major selections,” Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference commissioner Rich Ensor said Wednesday to the Associated Press. “We’ll be supportive of the development of other options for postseason play.”
Of course the commissioners of one-bid leagues love this idea because they can sell advertisements that read they sent two or even three teams to post-season tournaments without really lying to the public (only sort of lying, which is always better). However, these conference presidents aren’t seeing the real picture. They can’t honestly believe the first invitation by the Gazelle Group will be to, say, a school with a hyphen or a direction in it. No, this is a business looking to make money so the UNC-Greensboros and Northern Colorados of the world will have to wait until the major schools snubbed of at-large berths to the NCAA Tournament make a decision. (For the record, I would rather not receive hate mail from fans of the Spartans and Bears please. It’s what I like to call an example, I’ll just take your word that you have fine programs).
The new tournament does have a slight twist at the end to make it unique from the Big Dance and NIT. It will be a single-elimination tournament through the semi-finals, all played at campus sites. The Championship Series will be a best of three with the higher-seeded team playing at home in the first game and, if necessary, the third.
The first round is scheduled for March 18-19. The Championship Series will be March 31, April 2 and April 4. Seriously, with all the BCS haters out there they are actually calling this The Championship Series? Really?
“It would be unfair for us to wait, so we’re going to let the NCAA pick their field and then we’ll invite the 66th team,” Gazelle Group president Rick Giles said in a November 14 press release. “It wouldn’t be fair not to.”
With CBS owning the 10,000-pound gorilla known as March Madness for quite a while and ESPN holding the rights to broadcast the NIT, how will this new event going to attract an audience that will care about a water-downed, second-tier post-season basketball tournament?
“One of the big things is giving teams a choice,” Giles added. “Competition is good and makes everything better. To date there hasn’t been a choice and we’ll make this a viable choice.”
This whole situation has a tainted smell similar to the IRL/CART auto racing split where nobody knows which event is more important and who is better. Pretty soon, nobody will be paying any attention at all and the organizers will have ruined what once was a viable non-NCAA Tournament option.
113 schools, three champions, and two different organizations. Post-season basketball isn’t really madness anymore, it’s a monster that continues to grow for no logical reason.