Feb. 22, 2006
The NCAA Tournament is certainly right around the corner, but so is the new-and-improved NIT, baby!
I had a great conversation with C.M. Newton recently. The Hall of Famer, whose many great accomplishments have helped college basketball, is a vital person behind the scenes in college hoops today. When he was the athletic director at Kentucky, Newton had the foresight to hire Rick Pitino (who is now the coach at Louisville). Newton also did a super job as a leader at Alabama and Vanderbilt.
Newton is part of a committee that is helping run the NIT. The event is now owned by the NCAA, and the decision about the field will be determined by Newton, Dean Smith, Jack Powers, former Air Force coach Reggie Minton, former Santa Clara coach Carroll Williams and Don DeVoe (the former Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Navy coach).
The committee has already made some positive changes. If a school wins its league regular-season title but loses in its conference tournament, it will automatically be invited to the NIT. That is a big deal for a low-major left out of the Big Dance despite winning the conference regular-season crown. A number of teams work hard and then suffer in a situation in which one loss ends the dream of the Big Dance. This is a great move for those schools. It rewards teams for a great season.
The field will be seeded from No. 1 to No. 40, with the higher seeds getting the home-court advantage. That is also a positive move. The committee will take the 40 best available teams after the NCAA picks its 34 at-large bids.
I feel that these moves will make the NIT more exciting. It is more than a way for a team to just extend its season. Yes, NIT teams want to play more to prepare for the future -- and hopefully a run to the Big Dance and March Madness the next season.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.