The NIT Has Left New York

At one time, the NIT championship was more important than winning an NCAA title.

Once upon a time, the National Invitation Tournament was the most important men’s basketball championship playoffs. It was far more significant than the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s championship playoffs and was a Madison Square Garden special event. The NIT began at the Garden in 1938 with just six teams involved. New York was perfect for the college basketball community in that the struggling business got a boost from playing in the largest American market and its high number of newspapers as well as being the home to national wire services and network radio. That would all change in 1973 when the National Broadcasting Company or NBC, a business that gave financial stability to the American Football League after giving the struggling league a multi-million five-year deal beginning in 1965 that lead to the AFL-National Football League merger in 1966, took control of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and put the championship final on a Monday night in prime time.

The NIT’s importance began to decline as NBC exerted more control as TV was calling more and more shots and the NCAA put more teams in its tournament. By 1977, Madison Square Garden was no longer hosting all games as early round games were assigned to local campuses in a cost cutting measure. In the 1980s, the NIT had lost all of its prestige although for some players it was still a good showcase. The Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association, a New York-based entity which administered the NIT sold the business to the NCAA in 2005 as an antitrust suit filed by the MIBA was being heard in court. Madison Square Garden continued to host games. But the Garden decided to get out of the business of hosting the NIT. The games will be played elsewhere beginning next spring. The NIT is a small-time event.

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