New tournament courts NCAA castoffs

16-team bracket tips off in March as rival to NIT

November 15, 2007|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN REPORTER

College basketball's postseason landscape shifted yesterday with the introduction of a 16-team men's tournament that will compete with the National Invitation Tournament for teams left out of the NCAA tournament's 65-team field.

The new tournament, called the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), raises the possibility that schools could have to decide in March between competing bids from the NIT and CBI.

Except for the championship round, it will be a single-elimination tournament played at campus sites. The final two teams will play a best two-out-of-three to determine the champion.

The new tournament raises the question: How much is too much?

Ninety-seven teams currently participate in the postseason. The new tournament would raise that figure to 113.

Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams said reaction to the new tournament will likely vary from school to school depending on size and ambitions. "It all depends where you are," he said.

Williams suggested that adding a new layer of postseason play is barely relevant for Maryland because of its recent history of success in the NCAA tournament, including winning the national championship in 2002.

"The only thing that counts is the NCAA," Williams said. "For the people that control coaches - like athletic directors - there are only 64 spots that count. So they could have 200 teams in the postseason and only 64 count."

The CBI is to be produced by the Gazelle Group, a Princeton, N.J., sports marketing firm that runs a number of preseason tournaments. Among them is the CBE Classic, which has its semifinals in Kansas City, Mo., on Monday night pitting Maryland against No. 2 UCLA in the opener.

"This past season, UConn, LSU, Iowa, Oklahoma, Missouri, California, Washington, Akron and Saint Louis, among others, were all left out of postseason play," the firm said in a news release. "The CBI creates the opportunity for such deserving teams to continue playing and be part of the postseason environment."

The CBI will stage its semifinals March 26 and its championship series on March 31, April 2 and April 4.

The NCAA men's semifinals are April 5, with the national championship game two days later.

"Obviously, we won't go after teams that are in the NCAA tournament," Evan Olesh, communications director for Gazelle, said yesterday.

Olesh said it was too soon to discuss who might televise the new event.

The NIT is scheduled to play its semifinals April 1 and its final April 3 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The NIT, which is expected to have a 32-team postseason field, isn't planning any changes based on having a new rival, said Greg Shaheen, an NCAA senior vice president who oversees the NIT. The NCAA purchased the rights to the NIT in 2005 after a four-year legal battle.

"Our championships are the size that our membership wants them to be, and we serve at the pleasure of the membership. Our job is to make sure we provide the best possible experience in those championships, and that will always be our focus," Shaheen said.

Some officials connected to college basketball speculated yesterday that there could be a downside to accepting a bid from the new tournament. Because the NCAA controls the NIT, the officials wondered whether snubbing the NIT could hurt them in the NCAA selection process in future years.

Asked about such a scenario, Shaheen declined to comment.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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