Mike Strange: An immodest proposal to promote NIT's battle for relevance

Mike Strange

Cuonzo Martin on Mercer, NIT

Cuonzo Martin on the Vols not making the NCAA Tournament

Martin: SEC needs to be smarter about scheduling

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March Madness Pop Quiz: Can anybody out there name the NIT defending champion?

I asked that same question a year ago and was greeted by crickets. Tennessee is back in the Little Dance so I’m asking again.

The point is that, by playing in the NCAA tournament’s shadow, the NIT is under the radar, if it’s even on the radar.

By the way, Stanford won last year, defeating Minnesota in the title game. To its chagrin, Stanford is back to defend its title.

To its chagrin, Tennessee is back, hoping to advance beyond the second round.

When UT coach Cuonzo Martin held his Monday media luncheon, Wednesday’s (TV: ESPNU, 8 p.m.) game against Mercer was barely mentioned. The Vols being snubbed by the NCAA selection committee was the topic du jour.

“When you look at Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky,’’ said Martin. “those are NCAA tournament teams, just not playing in the NCAA tournament.’’

It went pretty much the same, I imagine, in media sessions in Lexington, Tuscaloosa and Charlottesville, to name a few sore spots.

At least the Vols aren’t being shipped to a 3,000-seat gym at Robert Morris.

That’s Kentucky’s culture shock. You end one March Madness cutting down the nets in the Superdome and begin the next at a bandbox in Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, in Macon, Ga., home of the Mercer Bears, the mood is considerably lighter.

“They were pumped when our name came up, even though you knew it was going to come up,” coach Bob Hoffman told the Macon Telegraph.

“We hadn’t really experienced any of that, just to see your name appear and know that you’re in something special and in a great tournament like this.”

Therein lies the gist of the NIT: It’s an uneven playing field in terms of motivation.

Some teams don’t want to be there, feeling disrespected by the NCAA snub. Others are chomping at the bit to make some postseason noise.

I’ve been mulling a proposal to fix that inequity.

Every player on every team in the nation lives for the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament. And that even goes for the “first round” play-in games in Dayton tonight and Wednesday.

The NCAA expanded the play-in format from one game to four games in 2011, awarding 68 bids instead of 65. The wrinkle has been almost universally praised.

In 2005, the NCAA purchased the NIT, a former prestigious rival that has declined into an also-ran event.

The NIT has improved under the NCAA’s umbrella, but still generates minimal interest outside the campuses involved.

What if the NCAA took those 32 teams destined for the NIT and incorporated them as play-in entries for the only bracket that everyone cares about?

Instead of four play-in games in Dayton, there would be four play-in games in each of the four NCAA regionals. And every one would matter. Motivation wouldn’t be a problem.

By now you’re thinking, especially if you’re a purist, “A 96-team bracket? The horror, the horror.’’

I bounced this proposal off a colleague. He attempted to throw a drink in my face and shouted, “What, and reward mediocrity? Never.’’

I know, I know. I’m not sure I buy a bloated bracket myself. We already have a bloated bowl schedule in football.

But, unlike the San Diego Credit Union Bowl, these play-in games would be relevant enough to generate interest.

That remains the challenge of the NIT as we know it and for its reluctant participants like the Vols.

Somebody’s going to cut down the nets in Madison Square Garden on April 4. Will anybody remember who it was?

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.

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Comments » 40

suggest_removal_4_all_troll_posts writes:

I'm no one of importance with regard to this subject and I endorse this proposal!

ralphie writes:

cuonzo needs a reality check. they didnt deserve it.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

@mike
sure, steal my idea, don't give me credit...though I like your NIT twist to it.

But, mike, yeah, I like the play-in for the final 16 slots.

It's not about "rewarding mediocrity", it's about evening the opportunity.

We all know these teams won't last long in the NCAA..so what? You nailed it, it's getting there.

MooseandSquirrelVol writes:

I have a counter proposal.
How about those teams that don't make the NCAA tourny and don't want to play in the NIT simply decline the invite.
I'm sure somebody else would be glad to get the spot.

bobbarbilly writes:

Lets just give everybody a trophy.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

in response to bobbarbilly:

Lets just give everybody a trophy.

Sure.
Here's yours.

CoverOrange writes:

If the Vols win the NIT, I will remember, and I am the most important person to me.

pvtoe writes:

in response to bobbarbilly:

Lets just give everybody a trophy.

I like that idea...I own a trophy shop

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

@cover
@pv

LOL (x2).

chbradshaw writes:

Going to the NIT is like going home with the one-armed, toothless hag at the end of the bar when it closes. Nothing good will come out of it and really will just waste your time.

All three SEC teams should have declined the invitation and just gone home and gone to bed.

rbwtn writes:

Honestly I can't tell you who won the NCAA two years ago and frankly don't care. Unless it's the SEC or TN. It last only a little while the same will be for Football when they get their short playoff which will cause nothing but controversy until they at least go to 8 teams which we should see around 2020 or 2030.

easleychuck writes:

Your proposal for making the NIT relevant is a great idea.

The current NIT serves very little purpose. Back when the NCAA was a smaller affair, the NIT did have relevance. If you look at the history of college basketball post-season tournaments you understand just how relevant the NIT used to be.

If a school that felt it got snubbed by the committee for the real tournament chose to decline the NIT invitation that would be fine with me. Unfortunately, many school's athletic departments might not allow for this.

I do not expect much from UT's venture into the NIT for 2 reasons--their past history and the lingering hangover of not making the NCAA.

If UT had split with Georgia and Ole Miss, the NCAA would have had a much more difficult time excluding them. I do believe that the selection committee has swung too far in letting in too many mid-majors into the tournament vs. good teams from the so called "power conference". I think that it because basketball is made up of many more have nots rather than the haves.

laraccoon writes:

nice read , when i read the line about the San Diego Credit Union bowl i about up-chucked my coffee .

FanNotSheep writes:

Forget the NIT postseason tournament and have it preseason. Then expand the NCAA to 80 teams. The only way 96 works is for the bottom 64 to play while the top 32 get a first round bye. Not in favor of that because I think that gives big advantage to the higher seeded first round winners who get their first game jitters out of the way against bottom seeds.

Do it with 80 teams and the top 48 rest while the bottom 32 play. That still may result in a few more upsets but not like the 96-team format would. I like a Cinderella story now and then but don't think you should penalize the higher seeds.

VolsSquid writes:

I'd remember if Tennessee won. I barely remember who won the NCAA tourney last year. Call me a homer, but if Tennessee is not in it, I don't care who wins. GBO! VF4L!

brod writes:

if it makes money, it's relevant. welcome to the ncaa.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

Here's one for you...
You know the Big 10 puts in 5 or more teams every season, right??

Without looking, tell me who/when was the last big 10 winner of the NCAA title.

It is eye-opening.

kwcoach writes:

Why would anyone go watch this? Tennessee won't play hard in regular season improtant games all of the time. What would make one think they will do it in a no count game against another no count team?

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Martin best forget the snub and start worrying about Mercer..Last thing he needs is to lose to Mercer after all his talk of how NCAA worthy we are..Not many of these NIT teams are pushovers..Mercer isn't a team with a bunch of six foot soft players,they have size and did what we couldn't beating Bama at Bama

volnbig11land writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Martin best forget the snub and start worrying about Mercer..Last thing he needs is to lose to Mercer after all his talk of how NCAA worthy we are..Not many of these NIT teams are pushovers..Mercer isn't a team with a bunch of six foot soft players,they have size and did what we couldn't beating Bama at Bama

+1

laraccoon writes:

off topic but a good read
http://espn.go.com/college-sports/rec...

VolzsFan writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Martin best forget the snub and start worrying about Mercer..Last thing he needs is to lose to Mercer after all his talk of how NCAA worthy we are..Not many of these NIT teams are pushovers..Mercer isn't a team with a bunch of six foot soft players,they have size and did what we couldn't beating Bama at Bama

True except when they played Alabama's best player was hurt and did not play. Big difference.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Martin best forget the snub and start worrying about Mercer..Last thing he needs is to lose to Mercer after all his talk of how NCAA worthy we are..Not many of these NIT teams are pushovers..Mercer isn't a team with a bunch of six foot soft players,they have size and did what we couldn't beating Bama at Bama

He sounds P'OD, but any coach that feels their team got snubbed usually reacts this way..Only this time UT doesn't have Dickie V, and a bunch of other Charlatan's whining with him (mainly because UT isn't a Big East school).

VolzsFan writes:

The NCAA Tournament TV deal is $775 million per year.

The BCS games TV deal is $125 million per year. Expected to grow to $250 million on the playoff.

The gate for the Final Four Championship game is about 75K.

The gate for the BCS championship game is about 72K.

The TV audience for the Final game for the Final Four is about 50 million.

The TV audience for the BCS football championship game is about 22 million.

However, the folks in the Southeast and just the Southeast, are the only region that is not sophisticated enough to know this.

Enjoy your UT change!!!

SouthALVol writes:

in response to VolzsFan:

True except when they played Alabama's best player was hurt and did not play. Big difference.

Boo hoo. Don't give me this phooey or the phooey about Noel not playing for Kentucky. We played the ENTIRE YEAR without Maymon...arguably our best player before the year started.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to laraccoon:

off topic but a good read
http://espn.go.com/college-sports/rec...

Interesting. If I got 102 letters from one person/company I would be annoyed, much less if I got them on one day. But then I was never a highly recruited teenager.

laraccoon writes:

in response to VolzsFan:

True except when they played Alabama's best player was hurt and did not play. Big difference.

a girly punk who makes excuses, figures ! i bet you had the prettiest dress in the whole trailer park growing up .

laraccoon writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Interesting. If I got 102 letters from one person/company I would be annoyed, much less if I got them on one day. But then I was never a highly recruited teenager.

if i would have got 102 letters when i was his age it would have probably been from the Miller Brewing Co. thanking me for all my business .

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

in response to VolzsFan:

The NCAA Tournament TV deal is $775 million per year.

The BCS games TV deal is $125 million per year. Expected to grow to $250 million on the playoff.

The gate for the Final Four Championship game is about 75K.

The gate for the BCS championship game is about 72K.

The TV audience for the Final game for the Final Four is about 50 million.

The TV audience for the BCS football championship game is about 22 million.

However, the folks in the Southeast and just the Southeast, are the only region that is not sophisticated enough to know this.

Enjoy your UT change!!!

Besides the little homily at the end...

what this data truly provokes is the value of expanding both the football playoffs (to 16) and the basketball (seed 48, play in for last 16).

The obvious needed metric is anticipated eyeballs per play-in game, and value of said eyeballs.

volhitman writes:

If the NCAA tourney is the Big Dance, is the NIT the Square Dance?

CoverOrange writes:

in response to emailnodata:

Besides the little homily at the end...

what this data truly provokes is the value of expanding both the football playoffs (to 16) and the basketball (seed 48, play in for last 16).

The obvious needed metric is anticipated eyeballs per play-in game, and value of said eyeballs.

On the upside, you don't have to wait 4 days for the first games. On the downside, really have to hurry to get your office pool brackets turned in by Tuesday.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to volhitman:

If the NCAA tourney is the Big Dance, is the NIT the Square Dance?

The disco..

tulelakevol writes:

Square Dance,good one.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to laraccoon:

off topic but a good read
http://espn.go.com/college-sports/rec...

Thanks for the link. That story just shows how absolutey crazy the recruiting game is these days. I guess I'm glad Jones and staff are trying to be as "crazy" as Saban in this way, but DANG....

DevoSanchez writes:

I have a better idea, stop letting all the Libertys of the world in. Seriously, you have 20 losses and get in? The 16 seed no-mans-conference winners are 0.00000% vs 1-seeds. Even a UT/Bama/UK has SOME chance against those teams and would eventually rack up some upsets over the 1 seeds.

The fact is that the NCAA tournament is a bit of a joke. IMO, put in the 32 BEST teams and play double-elimination. Take all those ultra-small conferences and demote them to D-II or simply don't them wiggle their way in. The problem is currently the "fans" just want an exciting tournament, when real fans would want to see who the best team is. "March Madness" does NOT accomplish this. It is a marketing ploy for the masses, little else. And yes, of course UT would never make a 32-team team field, that is FINE, they obviously are a not a top-32 team.

Just to make the masses happy, let them have a 64-team tournament (the bottom half of the current tournament and conference tournament champions + NIT) and let them play a single-elimination madness extravaganza.

lstbodeanvol writes:

in response to chbradshaw:

Going to the NIT is like going home with the one-armed, toothless hag at the end of the bar when it closes. Nothing good will come out of it and really will just waste your time.

All three SEC teams should have declined the invitation and just gone home and gone to bed.

SO YOU ARE IN A BAR IN GAINESVILLE ?

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

NIT
Not-Invited-Tournament

rockypop writes:

Like everything in college athletics, the NIT is all about whatever money can be drained out of the turnip. Obviously, it gets enough interest on TV to generate advertiser revenues, so that must mean somebody is watching.

But, come on, this tournament is a money-grab for ESPN and an increased practice time opportunity for the schools. Nothing else matters. Unless you're Robert Morris, with a 4,000 seat gym, nobody is going to sell out their games - or even come close.

For big-time programs, it's almost an embarrassment to play in the NIT, because it's a no-win proposition.

I am, in fact, a big believer that even the NCAA Tournament should revert to a smaller field of conference champions only, and get rid of all the at-large teams. That way, the regular season will once again, matter. For those teams without a conference - tough stuff. Get in one (Notre Dame, take notice). And, for those conferences that have a problem determining a regular season champ because of size - well, figure it out. Because, conference tournaments need to go, too.

But, this will never happen, because college basketball - like football, is all about the money. And, the way the system is now in college basketball, the regular season is a joke. Fans don't really start caring until the end of the season, because if their team has laid an egg during the regular season, then they have these ridiculous conference tournaments to make up for it. And that's simply not good for the game.

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Martin best forget the snub and start worrying about Mercer..Last thing he needs is to lose to Mercer after all his talk of how NCAA worthy we are..Not many of these NIT teams are pushovers..Mercer isn't a team with a bunch of six foot soft players,they have size and did what we couldn't beating Bama at Bama

Agreed 100%. This NIT field is not weak by any stretch of the imagination. Many of these teams have beaten several NCAA tourney teams. The funny thing is, they could do the same thing again. I agree with Strange on this one. Blend the NIT with the NCAA. Let the eventual champion have to beat teams of all different levels. Right now, you simply don't have the best 68 teams playing in the NCAA tourney. You never do. But by putting the NIT teams in with the current 68, you'd have all the regular season champs of the one-bid leagues (that lost their tourneys), plus decent to good teams that got passed over from bigger conferences. Reward regular season champions with better seeds (see Indiana). Also reward teams that play a tougher non-conference schedule. Like Strange said, you would have 90-100 highly motivated teams, and it would really be March Madness. Do you think that Tennessee would not come hungry to this kind of dance party? And everybody else, for that matter. You'd have a few very good to outstanding teams, and a whole lot of dangerous ones. Make the champ earn it. Against anybody and everybody. I'd really like to see something like this.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to rockypop:

Like everything in college athletics, the NIT is all about whatever money can be drained out of the turnip. Obviously, it gets enough interest on TV to generate advertiser revenues, so that must mean somebody is watching.

But, come on, this tournament is a money-grab for ESPN and an increased practice time opportunity for the schools. Nothing else matters. Unless you're Robert Morris, with a 4,000 seat gym, nobody is going to sell out their games - or even come close.

For big-time programs, it's almost an embarrassment to play in the NIT, because it's a no-win proposition.

I am, in fact, a big believer that even the NCAA Tournament should revert to a smaller field of conference champions only, and get rid of all the at-large teams. That way, the regular season will once again, matter. For those teams without a conference - tough stuff. Get in one (Notre Dame, take notice). And, for those conferences that have a problem determining a regular season champ because of size - well, figure it out. Because, conference tournaments need to go, too.

But, this will never happen, because college basketball - like football, is all about the money. And, the way the system is now in college basketball, the regular season is a joke. Fans don't really start caring until the end of the season, because if their team has laid an egg during the regular season, then they have these ridiculous conference tournaments to make up for it. And that's simply not good for the game.

While I can agree that money perhaps has too much influence in college sports these days, it can't simply be IGNORED. The money schools get from their TV contracts for football and men's basketball helps pay for all the non-revenue sports on campus, and dropping all of those would simply mean that only money-making sports count for anything at all, which would basically do away with the idea of "college amateur athletics", as opposed to colleges running outright minor leagues for professional sports.

Besides, I don't have a problem with conference tournaments providing a second chance for teams that improve over the course of a season, either by getting injured players back or simply having the opportunity to jell in the case of teams with a number of new starters. Only allowing the conference champ to go to the NCAA, which was the rule for a good long time in NCAA tourney history, leads to travesties like the loser of the epic NC State-Maryland game about 30 years ago staying home, when both teams were in the national top FIVE at the end of the season. NC State won the ACC tournament 103-100 in OT and went on to win the national championship while Maryland either went to the NIT or stayed home. The ACC was virtually alone at that time in naming their tournament champion as their NCAA representative, but I think the two teams were tied atop the conference at the end of the regular season.

BTW, Notre Dame has been in the Big East for all sports except football for about the last 10 years or more. With the demise of the Big East, they will be in the ACC starting later this year, again with the exception of football.

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