LSU recently made headlines when they announced they would not participate in any postseason tourney, after it became clear their resume was not good enough to make the NCAA Tournament. However, they were practically assured an invitation to play in the NIT. A big reason for their decision was that star freshman Ben Simmons, who many consider the top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, would not play. LSU’s performance in their SEC semi-final loss was also embarrassing, as they showed little effort once Texas A&M opened up a big lead. When Northwestern failed to receive an NIT at-large bid, they announced their season was over, despite a likely CBI invite. Many other teams released similar statements that they were not interested in participating in certain tournaments, and would end their seasons.
This type of behavior is not just reserved for power conference teams. In an interview on the school’s athletics website, Oakland’s Athletic Director essentially said that they only tournament the Golden Grizzlies would go to is the new Vegas 16, as they wanted to play on a neutral site. But let’s be honest. Some people just want any excuse for a trip to Las Vegas. The Vegas 16 has gotten off to a rough start before it has even begun, as they decided to make the tournament 8 teams, since they had trouble getting 16 to commit.
It is understandable that teams are bummed out when they fail to reach the pinnacle of college basketball, the NCAA Tournament. But don’t throw a pity party and act like you’re too good to play in these other tournaments. It make the school look bad, and takes away from positive experiences for the players, fans, the pep band, cheerleaders, and other students.
There are currently four postseason tournaments, besides the Big Dance. The NIT, which has been played since 1938 , has 32 teams. Teams who win their conference regular season titles, but fail to win their conference tournament, receive an automatic NIT bid. This helps many mid-majors get into a prestigious tournament who otherwise might not get in. Most of the NIT’s at-large bids go to power conference teams who were close to getting into the NCAA Tourney, or who had solid enough seasons and want to use the tourney to get some momentum into next season.
The College Basketball Invitational (CBI) is in its 9th season and features 16 teams. A unique part of this tournament is that they do not play a single championship game. But rather a best 2-out-of-3 series determines the winner. Zero teams from power conferences elected to play in the CBI this year.
The CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) is in its 8th season overall and has 26 teams participating this year. It is unique in that only teams from mid-major conferences are allowed to participate.
The aforementioned Vegas 16 could throw a wrench in the selection process of these other tournaments because teams who don’t make the NCAA or NIT tournaments may want to play here, simply because of the location.
For the NIT, CBI, and CIT, whose games are played at campus sites (with the exception of the NIT Final Four), I understand that many fans are not interested in attending these games. This is especially evident with the larger schools. Schools then need to put forth some extra effort to make it a special event with reduced prices or free tickets, or some other promotions. It is great to see some of the smaller schools pack their arenas, as they are happy to be in any tournament.
Given their quality seasons, I am very surprised that Horizon League teams Wright State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee are not participating in any tournament. Since the Horizon League is one of the better mid-majors, it is easy to conclude that they did not want to play in any remaining tournament after not receiving an NIT bid.
This attitude of refusing to play in these tournaments needs to stop. The NCAA should make them mandatory for teams to play in, if they qualify and are invited. If teams refuse, they should face sanctions and penalties, like fines, public reprimands, loss of scholarships, and future conference tournament/postseason bans. What kind of message does scoffing and refusing to play send to student-athletes? It tells them that it is okay to quit and cower away when faced with challenges. It promotes contempt and selfishness by saying “I will only play in your tourney and no other one.” Conferences need to also send strong messages to their teams, and coaches need to relay that to their players so they are ready to play and play hard in any postseason setting. If teams won’t play in these tournaments for themselves, at least do it for the fans. Even though many are focused on the NCAA Tournament, there are plenty who want to see their team continue playing anywhere.