The National Invitation Tournament (NIT) is an annual men's college basketball tournament operated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The tournament is played at regional sites with its Final Four traditionally played at Madison Square Garden (MSG) in New York City each March and April. First held in 1938, the NIT was once considered the most prestigious post-season showcase for college basketball before its status was superseded by the mid-1980s by the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament.

A second, much more recent "NIT" tournament is played in November and known as the NIT Season Tip-Off. Formerly the "Preseason NIT" (and still sometimes referred to as such colloquially), it was founded in 1985. Like the postseason NIT, its final rounds are played at Madison Square Garden. Both tournaments were operated by the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association (MIBA) until 2005, when they were purchased by the NCAA, and the MIBA disbanded.

Unless otherwise qualified, the terms NIT or National Invitation Tournament refer to the post-season tournament in both common and official use.

History

Founding

The post-season National Invitation Tournament was founded in 1938 by the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association, one year after the NAIA tournament was created by basketball's inventor Dr. James Naismith, and one year before the NCAA tournament. The first NIT was won by the Temple University Owls over the Colorado Buffaloes.

Responsibility for the NIT's administration was transferred in 1940 to the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Committee, a body of local New York colleges: Fordham University, Manhattan College, New York University, St. John's University, and Wagner College. This became the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association (MIBA) in 1948.

Originally the tournament invited a field of six teams, with all games played at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.

The field was expanded to eight teams in 1941, 12 in 1949, 14 in 1965, 16 in 1968, 24 in 1979, 32 in 1980, and 40 from 2002 through 2006. From 2007 to 2019 and since 2022, the tournament reverted to the current 32-team format; 2021 saw the field cut to 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, where no games were scheduled the year before.

Early advantages over the NCAA tournament

In its earliest years, before 1950, the NIT offered some advantages over the NCAA tournament:

  • There was limited national media coverage of college basketball in the 1930s and 1940s, and playing all of its games in New York City provided teams greater media exposure, both with the general public and among high school prospects in its rich recruiting territory. The NCAA also staged its eastern regional final in New York City from 1943 through 1950, as well as its Final Four from 1943 through 1948.
  • Until 1950, the NCAA tournament selection committee invited only one team each from eight national regions, potentially leaving better quality selections and natural rivals out of its field, which would opt for the NIT.

Prestige

From its onset and at least into the mid-1950s, the NIT was regarded as the most prestigious showcase for college basketball. All-American at Princeton and later NBA champion with the New York Knicks and United States Senator Bill Bradley stated:

In the 1940s, when the NCAA tournament was less than 10 years old, the National Invitation Tournament, a saturnalia held in New York at Madison Square Garden by the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association, was the most glamorous of the post-season tournaments and generally had the better teams. The winner of the National Invitation Tournament was regarded as more of a national champion than the actual, titular, national champion, or winner of the NCAA tournament.

— A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton

Several teams played in both the NIT and NCAA tournaments in the same year, beginning with Colorado and Duquesne in 1940. Colorado won the NIT in 1940 but subsequently finished fourth in the NCAA West Region. In 1944, Utah lost its first game in the NIT but then proceeded to win not only the NCAA tournament, but also the subsequent Red Cross War Charities benefit game in which they defeated NIT champion St. John's at Madison Square Garden. In 1949, some Kentucky players were bribed by gamblers to lose their first round game in the NIT. This same Kentucky team went on to win the NCAA. In 1950, City College of New York won both the NIT and the NCAA tournaments in the same season, coincidentally defeating Bradley University in the championship game of both tournaments, and remains the only school to accomplish that feat because of an NCAA committee change in the early 1950s prohibiting a team from competing in both tournaments.

The champions of both the NCAA and NIT tournaments played each other for three seasons during World War II. From 1943 to 1945, the American Red Cross sponsored a postseason charity game between each year's tournament champions to raise money for the war effort. The series was described by Ray Meyer as not just benefit games, but as "really the games for the national championship". The NCAA champion prevailed in all three games.

The Helms Athletic Foundation retrospectively selected the NIT champion as its national champion for 1938 (Temple) and chose the NIT champion over the NCAA champion once, in 1939 (Long Island). More recently, the mathematically based Premo-Porretta Power Poll published in the ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia retrospectively ranked teams for each season prior to 1949, the year in which the Associated Press poll was implemented. For the period when the tournaments overlapped between 1939 and 1948, Premo-Porretta ranked the NIT champion ahead of the NCAA champion twice (1939 and 1941) and the NCAA champion ahead of the NIT champion eight times. Between 1939 and 1970, when teams could compete in either tournament, only DePaul (1945), Utah (1947), San Francisco (1949) and Holy Cross (1954) claim or celebrate national championships for their teams based solely on an NIT championship, although Long Island recognizes its selection as the 1939 national champion by Helms Athletic Foundation, which was made retrospectively in 1943.

In 1943 the NCAA tournament moved to share Madison Square Garden with the NIT in an effort to increase the credibility of the NCAA Tournament. In 1945, The New York Times indicated that many teams could get bids to enter either tournament, which was not uncommon in that day. Since the mid-1950s, the NCAA tournament has been popularly regarded by most institutions as the pre-eminent postseason tournament, with conference champions and the majority of the top-ranked teams participating in it.

Nevertheless, as late as 1970, Coach Al McGuire of Marquette, the 8th-ranked team in the final AP poll of the season, spurned an NCAA at-large invitation because the Warriors were going to be placed in the NCAA Midwest Regional (Fort Worth, Texas) instead of closer to home in the Mideast Regional (Dayton, Ohio). The team played in the NIT instead, which it won. This led the NCAA to decree in 1971 that any school to which it offered a bid must accept it or be prohibited from participating in postseason competition, reducing the pool of teams that could accept an NIT invitation.

Decline

As the NCAA tournament expanded its field to include more teams, the reputation of the NIT suffered. In 1973, NBC moved televised coverage of the NCAA championship from Saturday afternoon to Monday evening, providing the NCAA Tournament with prime-time television exposure the NIT could not match. Even more crucially, when the NCAA eliminated the one-team-per-conference rule in 1975, its requirement that teams accept its bids relegated the NIT to a collection of teams that did not make the NCAA grade.

Compounding this, to cut costs, the NIT moved its early rounds out of Madison Square Garden in 1977, playing games at home sites until the later rounds. This further harmed the NIT's prestige, both regionalizing interest in it and marginalizing it by reducing its association with Madison Square Garden. By the mid-1980s, its transition to a secondary tournament for lesser teams was complete.

NCAA takes control

In 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association purchased 10-year rights to the NIT from the MIBA for $56.5 million to settle an antitrust lawsuit, which had gone to trial and was being argued until very shortly before the settlement was announced. The MIBA alleged that compelling teams to accept invitations to the NCAA tournament even if they preferred to play in the NIT was an illegal use of the NCAA's powers. In addition, it argued that the NCAA's expansion of its tournament to 65 teams (68 since 2011) was designed specifically to bankrupt the NIT. Faced with the very real possibility of being found in violation of federal antitrust law for the third time in its history, the NCAA chose to settle (the first two violations were related to restrictions on televising college football and capping assistant coach salaries). As part of the purchase of the NIT by the NCAA, the MIBA disbanded.

The 2020 edition of the NIT was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, following the NCAA canceling all winter and spring sports for that year in its wake. In 2021, the NIT, like March Madness, decided to play its games at a bubble location, this time being Denton and Frisco, Texas, therefore for the first time the semifinals and championship weren't played at the Madison Square Garden. After a return to MSG in 2022, it was announced that the 2023 and 2024 semis and final would be moved away from New York. On August 12, 2022, the NCAA announced that the final rounds of the 2023 NIT would be held at Orleans Arena in Paradise, Nevada and hosted by nearby UNLV, and the 2024 site would be Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Reputation

The status of the post-season National Invitation Tournament as a "consolation" fixture has led to something of a stigma in the minds of many fans. When teams with tenuous hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth lose away from home late in the season, opposing fans may taunt the players in the closing seconds with chants of "NIT! NIT!" This is done regardless of whether the home team is headed for the NCAA Tournament or not. Irv Moss, a journalist for the Denver Post, once wrote of such a taunt to a defeated team, "The three-letter word ... was far more cutting than any four-letter word they could have hollered."

Because the post-season NIT consists of teams that failed to receive a berth in the NCAA Tournament, the NIT has been nicknamed the "Not Invited Tournament", "Not Important Tournament", "Never Important Tournament", "Nobody's Interested Tournament", "Needs Improvement Tournament", "No Important Team", "National Insignificant Tournament," or simply "Not In Tournament". It has also been called a tournament to see who the "69th best team" in the country is (since there are now 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament).

David Thompson, an All-American player from North Carolina State, called the NIT "a loser's tournament" in 1975. NC State, which had been the previous year's NCAA champion, refused to play in the tournament that year, following the precedent set by ACC rival Maryland the previous season after losing the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game to the top-ranked Wolfpack. In succeeding years, other teams such as Oklahoma State, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Georgetown, and LSU have declined to play in the NIT when they did not make the NCAA tournament. One such team was Maryland; after being rejected by the NCAA selection committee in 2006, head coach Gary Williams announced that 19–11 Maryland would not go to the NIT, only to be told that the university had previously agreed to use Comcast Center as a venue for the NIT. The Terrapins were eliminated in the first round by the Manhattan College Jaspers. In 2008, however, Williams announced that if invited, the Terps would play, because it would serve as a chance to further develop six freshman players on his squad and to give senior forward James Gist more exposure. At UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, there are individual championship banners for all 11 NCAA titles; there hung a banner for UCLA's 1985 NIT championship until the 1995 NCAA championship banner replaced it. However, during the recent remodeling of Pauley Pavilion a plaque was installed along the concourse of the building commemorating the Bruins 1985 NIT Championship.

For other teams, however, the NIT is perceived as a step up, helping programs progress from mediocrity or obscurity to prominence, and the response is more enthusiastic. For example, at the University of Tulsa, which won the NIT in 1981 and 2001, the Golden Hurricane's NIT "championship tradition" is viewed with pride and as a "lure" for players to join the program. The University of Connecticut also regards the NIT as the beginning of its success. The NIT is also held in generally higher regard than the newer tournaments that have debuted since 2008 (the current College Basketball Invitational and CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, plus The Basketball Classic and the Vegas 16, which both folded after only one edition). St. Bonaventure, a school that, since 2014, has a policy of refusing to play in those newer tournaments, still accepted bids to the NIT, if invited. In 2024, it further began declining bids to the NIT as well, stating that the expense of a road trip of up to five games, the result of if the team were ranked in the lower half of the bracket, could not be justified.

The NIT Season Tip-Off carries none of the postseason tournament's stigma and is one of many popular season-opening tournaments held every year around the country (alongside events such as the Maui Invitational and the now-defunct Great Alaska Shootout).

Национальный пригласительный турнир (NIT) — ежегодный мужской баскетбольный турнир, проводимый в США Национальной ассоциацией студенческого спорта (NCAA) среди мужских баскетбольных команд университетов. В турнире участвуют команды, не попавшие в турнир NCAA.

NIT проводится в конце сезона NCAA, начиная с 1938 года. До 1970 года в турнире участвовали команды из любого дивизиона NCAA, но после расширения турнира NCAA до 32 команд в 1970 году в NIT начали участвовать только команды из второго дивизиона (до 1973 года — Второй дивизион). С 1985 года в турнире участвуют только команды из первого дивизиона (с 2006 года — Дивизион I).

Формат турнира менялся несколько раз с момента основания. В настоящее время в турнире участвуют 32 команды, которые делятся на четыре региона (западный, южный, восточный и среднезападный). Команды проводят матчи в формате плей-офф, по результатам которых определяется победитель турнира.

Победителем турнира NIT становились такие известные команды, как «Нотр-Дам» (7 раз), «Сан-Франциско» (5 раз), «Браун» (4 раза), «Фордэм» (4 раза), «Стэнфорд» (4 раза) и «Миннесота» (4 раза).

NIT является вторым по значимости мужским баскетбольным турниром в США после турнира NCAA. Турнир NIT транслируется по телевидению и пользуется большой популярностью среди любителей баскетбола.