Lawyer: Rule changes could cause BCS-type mess

NEW YORK -- Not requiring teams to participate in the NCAA Tournament could lead to a split national basketball championship, a lawyer argued in U.S. District Court on Thursday.

The National Invitation Tournament (NIT) is suing the NCAA, saying it violates antitrust laws by requiring teams to participate in the NCAA Tournament if they are invited.

Gregory Curtner, the lawyer for the NCAA, believes college basketball could have the same problem as college football if the NIT were to have its way. Last season, USC and LSU shared the national title on the gridiron, with LSU winning the controversial BCS.

And it's not even the NIT that has Curtner concerned.

"I don't think [teams] would go to the NIT, frankly," Curtner told The Indianapolis Star. "It's no longer competitive. It hasn't been for 30 years. But there's a possibility somebody else might come along. [A different group] could go to a Duke, to a [Connecticut], and say, 'Come play in our tournament next year. We'll give you a bunch of money.' Then they can advertise to the world that they have these big teams.

"That would be good for them in the short run. It might even be good for consumers in the short run. But it would diminish the quality, the legitimacy of the national championship over time."

The NIT was once a powerful postseason tourney. But it clearly has taken a backseat to the NCAAs over the last few decades.

According to court records obtained by The Star, the NCAA Tournament made $270 million in 2001. The NIT made less than $4 million. The NCAA now has a $6.2 billion, 11-year contract with CBS to televise the tournament.

According to the newspaper, NIT lawyer Jeffrey Kessler cited a deposition from NCAA executive vice president Tom Jernstedt in which Jernstedt said postseason basketball would become "chaos" if teams weren't required to play in the NCAA Tournament.

"That chaos is what the antitrust laws call competition," Kessler told the court. "All we're seeking here is a determination that the schools should decide."

The NIT filed the lawsuit three years ago as a reaction to NCAA rules that threatened the viability of its preseason tournament. That issue is still being decided in another court in a lawsuit brought by other promoters. The NIT depends on the preseason tourney for its financial survival.

Kessler has affidavits from Texas Tech coach Bob Knight, Memphis coach John Calipari and Creighton coach Dana Altman stating they would at least give the NIT some thought if they were invited to both tournaments.

"Fans will choose, just like they did in the '60s," Kessler told The Star. "The fans loved the NIT tournament. The fans loved the NCAA Tournament. That was exciting. And by the way, if that's not true, then the fans will decide. If you don't have (the NCAA's) rules, markets decide. If Mr. Curtner is right that all the schools will go (with) them (anyway), then why have the rules?"

Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum could wait months to rule on requests from both sides for summary judgment. A trial could be held later this year.