Ed.: As men’s basketball adds a fifth postseason tournament this year, there is more a possibility than ever for confusion surrounding each one’s advantages and perks of participation. Two weeks ago, we published this story which relied on previous reporting from the Las Vegas Sun and other news outlets. Recognizing that some of the statements within could be mischaracterized, we’ve produced this primer on the three tournaments that exist beyond the NCAA and NIT events. We hope that it can be useful, and as always, feel free to contact us if you have questions or would like to offer commentary that our readers could use.
A testimony of the value of postseason basketball tournaments, such as the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) and College Basketball Invitational (CBI), are their staying power.
The 32-team CIT, founded in 2008, will showcase its eighth annual postseason event this year. The CBI, founded a year earlier, will field a 16-team competition for the ninth consecutive season.
The Vegas 16, which is slated for its inaugural run later this month at the Mandalay Bay casino, should be encouraged by how the CIT and CBI have become stronger over the years rather than diminish despite most of the attention placed on the NCAA tournament. With the 32-team NIT in its 78th year of existence, it is obvious the NCAA tournament (around since 1939) can co-exist with other postseason tournaments that provide student-athletes additional games for an opportunity at a championship.
The CIT is unique inasmuch as it gives only non-Power 5 conference teams a chance for glory, which allows schools the opportunity to identify with it more than the NIT, CBI or Vegas 16. If you love the allure of mid-major programs getting their due, the CIT is for you.
“The CIT has always had a focused model, catering strictly to mid-majors,” said Jason Belzer (pictured left), an accomplished sports attorney and founder of GAME Inc., which manages and operates the CIT. “We are incredibly proud of the fact that we’ve had over 120 different schools participate in the past 7 years, and 26 of those schools won their first ever Division I postseason game in the CIT.
“That is exactly what the intention of the CIT is, to give deserving mid-major programs an opportunity to not only play in the postseason, but have a real chance at a championship. We’ve had over 400,000 people attend the tournament over the last seven years, and have never had a team decline a bid. I think that’s a tremendous testament to the product that we’ve worked so hard to create, and we’re confident that there will always be a place for the CIT in the college basketball postseason.”
Programs such as Oakland have tremendously benefitted from the CIT, establishing itself as one of the top mid-majors in the country by virtue of playing in the postseason. The Golden Grizzlies have participated in four CITs since 2009, an experience that helped propel them to a double-digit win at Washington this season and a near-upset of in-state rival Michigan State (the Spartans needed overtime before prevailing).
“Our fans should relish an opportunity to see this team play in the postseason, and such experiences can only assist in the further development of the program moving forward,” Oakland Athletic Director Jeff Konya (pictured right) said about his program’s development playing in the CIT.
The CIT has grown from 16 teams in 2008 to 24 teams in 2011 to the current 32 teams in 2012.
“CollegeInsider.com has always been a friend to all of college basketball, but particularly to the smaller programs,” said Belmont coach Rick Byrd, who coached the Ohio Valley Conference power to the quarterfinals of the first CIT in 2008. “I am anxious to watch this tournament develop and would consider it an honor to be a participant when our play warrants an invitation.”
A Las Vegas Sun article, published last month about the development of the Vegas 16, and previously cited by this outlet, took a swipe at the CIT and CBI for charging “teams to host games on short notice in front of less-than-enthusiastic fans.” The report mentioned that the Vegas 16, spearheaded by former Arizona and UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood, has “positioned itself as a more lucrative option for programs that want to keep playing.”
Nothing like competition bringing out the hometown favoritism from the media even with a postseason tournament held in the immense shadow of NCAA Tournament. That’s how significant these postseason affairs have become, jockeying for position for the most exposure.
It is a fact that any team wanting to participate in the CIT must be willing to host in either of the first two rounds at a cost of $38,500. The hosting fee is used to help visiting teams offset travel costs. The CIT selection committee tries to match opponents from similar regions, and pays all traveling expenses for a party of 22 to travel regardless of cost. It also compensates game officials. The CIT also covers all costs related to television production on the CBS Sports Network and internet streaming, as well as providing t-shirts and other gear for participating players.
Host schools keep 100 percent of the gate and any related concessions or parking. In addition, they have the freedom to secure local sponsorship to underwrite the game and can keep any other funds raised related to the game.
The CBI has a minimum ticket guarantee from the home team for the first and second round. Anything over those costs, and the home team makes a profit. Tickets prices are set by the host team. Money is also made from parking and concessions.
“Teams have made money off of this,” Ray Cella, a spokesman for the Princeton, N.J.-based Gazelle Group, which runs the CBI, told the Pittsburgh Tribune. “Depending on what they draw, they are going to make money. It’s a misnomer to say it’s a pay for play. It’s not buying your way in.” The CBI also goes through the effort of picking up the costs for officials, team travel, and all per diems.
Pacific advanced to the 2010 CIT championship game without spending any money out of its athletic department budget. Bradley reportedly used money it earned in the 2009 CIT competition to pay for an exhibition trip to South America the following year. Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, which has only been a Division I member for 16 years and had never participated in the postseason before the 2014 CIT, set a record for walk-up single-game ticket sales when it played host to Kent State in the second round last season.
“Just having a chance to win and host a game has definitely helped our season ticket sales,” Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi Coach Willis Wilson (left) told Forbes magazine. “Gains are incremental; going to postseason and playing a really good game against a good opponent on our home floor provided incentive for people to come to our games.”
Because the CIT features mid- to low-majors, the competition is balanced in every round, which helps generate ticket sales because of the entertainment value. The novelty of a smaller school hosting a postseason tournament game adds to the fan involvement. In the CIT semifinals last year, Northern Arizona set a school attendance record with 5,583 fans, which was higher than 23 of the 28 home games played in the NIT.
On average, the CIT championship game has drawn crowds comparable or significantly larger than the NIT championship, which is played each year in Madison Square Garden. The 2013 NIT final between Iowa and Baylor drew 5,301 while the Weber State-East Carolina matchup in the CIT championship drew a crowd of 10,583.
Careers are born in the CIT. Cal Coach Cuonzo Martin made a name for himself when he led Missouri State to the 2010 CIT championship. One year later, the Bears captured their first Missouri Valley title. They finished the 2010-11 season with 26 wins and a win in the first round of the NIT.
“The CIT provided us with an opportunity to win a championship and to better prepare us for our run to the Missouri Valley Conference championship,” said Martin (right), who went on to coach at Tennessee from 2011 to 2014 before taking over the Cal program. “The CIT really helped our program.”
The CBI provides fans the unique experience of a best-of-three championship series. The tournament’s growth is evidenced by it having an exclusive television partnership with ESPN starting this year. ESPNU is slated to televise the championship series this year. From 2009 to 2013, the tournament was aired on HDNet and AXS TV before the CBS Sports Network televised it the last two years.
An element that sets the CIT apart is the The John McLendon Classic, which will be part of this postseason and will be a permanent fixture of the tournament moving forward. The game will pay tribute to McLendon, the first African American coach to win an integrated national championship, and the legacy of some of the pioneers of the game, including Clarence “Big House” Gaines and Ben Jobe. At least one historical black college or university will participate in this annual event, with the winner advancing to the second round of the CIT. None of the other postseason tournaments have a classic game attached to it.
The growth of the CIT and CBI and advent of the Vegas 16 indicates that college basketball has a place for postseason basketball alongside the wildly popular NCAA tournament and long-standing NIT. The 96 teams in the NIT, CIT, CBI and Vegas 16 won’t be in the Big Dance but they will march on with their own aspirations.
The winners are not only the marketing groups that stage these events. The emphasis is placed where it should be, on the student-athletes involved.
Update: (3/9, 1:52 pm) Information about ticket guarantees and pricing in regards to CBI participation were updated to correct inaccuracies and better reflect the CBI’s practices.