NIT claims NCAA's must-compete policy harmful

NEW YORK -- A lawyer for the NIT took a shot at restoring
the tournament's lost luster Tuesday, telling a jury that the
NCAA's March Madness was purposefully ruining it.
Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer for the five schools which sponsor the
preseason and postseason National Invitation Tournament, said the
NCAA "willfully, deliberately set out to get a monopoly, to
eliminate competition, to make it impossible to compete."
In a civil case projected to feature testimony from college
presidents, coaches, athletic directors and economists, the NIT,
the older of the two tournaments, is asking a jury to find that
the NCAA violated federal antitrust laws.
Kessler said the NCAA had eliminated the NIT's chance to land
the best teams for its postseason tournament.
"Playing the game with the NCAA is a rigged game," he charged
in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, blaming the
multi-billion-dollar business of college basketball for corrupting
the NCAA. He said his evidence would include videotape testimony
from Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight.
The NIT is challenging a long-standing NCAA rule requiring
schools to accept a bid to its tournament over a bid to all others.
This, the lawyer said, severely damaged the NIT, sponsored by
the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association, which
consists of Fordham University, Manhattan College, St. John's
University, Wagner College and New York University.
Kessler introduced four presidents of the schools and one former
president to the jury, asking the men to stand.
He later explained that the NIT started its basketball
tournament in 1938, a year before the NCAA began one, and once was
so successful that many athletes played in both tournaments.
Gregory L. Curtner, the NCAA's lawyer, said the NCAA was made up
of 1,024 schools, including the schools that sponsor the NIT.
He nodded in the direction of the school officials, which
included two clergymen, as he told jurors that those five schools
"want more money."
"They want to take it from the other 1,000 schools and put more
of it in their pocket," he charged.
After featuring many of the best basketball programs in the
1940s and 1950s, the NIT faded in importance because it agreed in
1962 to let the NCAA choose teams for its tournament first, he
After losing a television contract and struggling financially,
the NIT asked the NCAA for help in 1985. The NCAA let it conduct a
preseason tournament whose games did not count against the total
number each school was permitted to play.
"Far from trying to run the NIT out of business, the NCAA has
helped keep it in business," Curtner said. "The NCAA will not say
there is something bad about the NIT. The NCAA is not trying to
drive it out of business."
At one point, Curtner accused the NIT of exercising a form of
courthouse bad sportsmanship by waiting until 2001 to file its
lawsuit, decades after its troubles began.
He noted that no school had ever complained about the rules that
the lawsuit opposed or taken steps to change them.
Instead, he said, schools understand that the NCAA sponsors 88
championships in 23 sports and sets rules through a democratic
system that benefits 360,000 athletes annually.
He said the NCAA was created in 1906 after 18 young men died a
year earlier playing college football. The sport was so unregulated
that schools used to bring in "ringers" or older men to give
their teams an unfair advantage.
Now, he said, the schools decide how to distribute money from
profitable college sports to support teams for women and sports
that do not draw crowds.
"It is a truly democratic institution," he said. "It's like
He said the NCAA has twice considered eliminating the rule
requiring teams to play in its tournaments but kept it because it
feared that someday producers might try to cherry pick the best
potential college championship matchups for made-for-tv events.
Kessler said the NIT is willing to accept its status as the
second most important tournament.
"We're not seeking to change that," he said. "We'd just like
it to be a fair competition and, of course, earn a little more
money so we can make the tournament better."