Friday, October 27, 2023

A Sad Day For The NIT

This is a sad day for the NIT.

For most of the past seven seasons (without those COVID complications) the NIT had guaranteed teams that won their conference regular season title a chance to continue playing basketball. It was a decent consolation for strong mid-major teams from 1-bid leagues that didn't qualify for the NCAA Tournament. They were guaranteed to continue playing, even after what had to be the most devastating loss of their season.

That guarantee is gone. Today the NCAA announced that it is changing the NIT selection process and one of the major changes is removing the automatic bids for conference regular season champions. Why? Well read for yourself.

For the 2024 NIT, conference regular season champions that do not win their conference tournament or are not otherwise selected to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship will not receive an automatic bid to the NIT.  Instead, the NIT will guarantee two teams (based on the NET rankings) from each of six conferences (Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern). The top two teams in the NET rankings not qualifying for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament from each conference, regardless of won-loss record, will be selected.  Additionally, the 12 teams automatically selected will be guaranteed the opportunity to host a game in the first round of the NIT. 

Once the 12 automatic qualifying schools have been selected, the NIT Committee will select the 20 best teams available to complete the tournament’s 32-team field.  Based on the NIT Committee’s evaluation, the best four teams of the 20 at-large teams selected will complete the 16 first round hosts, with deference given to the “first four teams out” of the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, as determined by the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball.  Additional teams from the six conferences with AQs are eligible to be selected as at-large teams and can be selected as hosts.

The NCAA is removing those bids so it can guarantee that it has space for 12 teams from power conferences. In terms of basketball competition or fairness this is absolutely nonsensical. But this move isn't about either of those things. It's about the fact that the NCAA needed to appease its power conference brethren when it came to the NIT because FOX was trying to form an alternative. Matt Brown, whose newsletter you should really be reading, laid out more than a month ago why that situation was bad for everyone. This is the first domino.

It probably won't be the last either.

The practical implications of this are many, especially for an NIT Bracketologist. It'll be easy enough to know which teams are trending towards being the 12 automatic bids and hosts. Figuring out the other 20 slots will become a much bigger challenge.

Who this really sucks for though are those teams from the bottom of Division I. Maybe Toledo, Yale, Hofstra, Southern Miss, Bradley and Utah Valley still get a bid to the 2023 NIT if these rules were in effect (and that's a big maybe). But schools like Alcorn St., Youngstown St., Eastern Washington, and Morehead St. would have found themselves on the wrong side of that bubble on Selection Sunday.

That sucks. Morehead St. beat Clemson (who would've been guaranteed a spot under the new rules) in the first round of the NIT last season. That matters. It would never have happened in this new world.

What would take their place? Well, 16-16 Texas Tech would've been in the field while undergoing massive upheaval due to a coaching change. So would've 16-19 Ohio State. Two Big East schools, Villanova and Seton Hall, would've been guaranteed home games instead of going on the road to Colorado and Liberty respectively. In fact, the Flames probably don't even manage to get awarded a home game under this new selection format.

This is a new direction for the NIT. It's a worse direction. I hope this is where it ends, but I feel like that won't be the case.

P.S. I guess I have to put together a new preseason NIT bracket under these circumstances.


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