NCAA buys tournaments, ends NIT litigation

In an attempt that NCAA officials say would unify college basketball, the NCAA purchased the preseason and postseason NIT Wednesday for $40.5 million.

The NCAA announced the purchase at a news conference at Madison Square Garden, site of the preseason and postseason NIT semifinals and finals. NCAA president Myles Brand said MSG would continue as the site for at least the next five years and possibly beyond because of the storied history with this event in New York.

"We've now unified postseason basketball,'' Brand said.

ESPN.com first reported the NCAA's intent to purchase the NIT Tuesday night. MSG and ESPN, as two contractual partners with the NIT, had to agree to assign their contracts to the NCAA and both agreed to do so Wednesday.

The purchase ends four years of litigation with MIBA, the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association (made up of five New York-area schools: Fordham, Manhattan, St. John's, Wagner and New York University).

The NCAA also announced it was paying $16 million to end the litigation.

The NIT filed an antitrust suit against the NCAA because of a rule that mandates if a team is chosen for the NCAA Tournament it must play in that event rather than go to the NIT. The NIT was once the premier tournament, starting in 1938, a year before the NCAA Tournament.

But now the NCAA will control all postseason basketball and is in the business of exempted tournaments by running the 16-team Preseason NIT. The transfer of the two events takes place immediately. Brand said over the next few weeks the organization will work on the logistics of each event. But he said the 2005 Preseason NIT wouldn't be touched. First-round home games have already been determined. Second-round home games haven't yet. The headline teams are Duke, UCLA, Memphis, Alabama and Temple.

"These tournaments are well planned and there is one in about 90 days,'' Brand said. "We have to look at this very carefully and respect all the commitments.''

Brand said the NCAA would try to honor contracts for future participants in the Preseason NIT.

Brand said ESPN would continue to be the television partner for both events. Brand said who selects the teams for the events is still up for debate but the men's basketball selection committee, which selects the teams for the 65-team NCAA Tournament, wouldn't select the participants for the 40-team postseason NIT.

The MIBA schools would dissolve as a basketball entity, according to Brand. He said the five schools would receive $5 million in years two through nine of paying off the purchase price of $40.5 million plus the legal fees to end the litigation. Brand said the NCAA would spend 10 years paying off the money. NYU president John Sexton said the NIT did make $1 million in revenue last season.

The purchase of the NIT could give new hope for the end of the "2-in-4" rule that limits teams to two exempted events in a four-year period. The Preseason NIT, like every other exempted event such as the EA Sports Maui Invitational, falls under this rule. Eliminating the rule would allow for more higher-profile teams to play in these events on a regular basis.

"That rule is being considered in the normal NCAA governance process and will hit the legislative cycle in October,'' Brand said.

Brand said the NCAA would look to put the postseason NIT on alternate nights than the NCAA Tournament. In the past, there is rarely a television conflict with the NIT and NCAA Tournament but there are postseason NIT games, not nationally televised, on the Thursday and/or Friday of the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA will be looking to MSG and others for suggestions about how to make the preseason and postseason NIT a better event. Highlighting the bubble teams in the postseason NIT (i.e. setting up for them to get to New York) could be one idea. Essentially, the NCAA is looking at ways to improve both products and make them as stylish as the cleanly produced NCAA Tournament.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.