The NCAA Tournament is now under threat
Fox's strange little NIT alternative seems harmless. It's anything but
Former colleague, recently unveiled hoops writer for The Messenger and friend of the newsletter Seth Davis reported a fascinating bit of info this week — one of the more surprising pieces of offseason news I’ve read in some time.
“Fox Sports in Negotiations to Hold a New Men’s College Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas in Late March,” went the headline, which sounded like a really big, scary deal. At first glance it looked like the college hoops doomsday scenario — TV networks and major conferences partnering up to undermine and destroy the classical NCAA Tournament format once and for all — had finally, horribly arrived, and without so much as a warning to boot. Wait, they’re going to try kill the NCAA Tournament? Now? Already?!
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Turns out, it’s not quite that:
Under terms of the proposed arrangement, the top 16 teams in the Big 12, Big East and Big Ten that did not qualify for the NCAA tournament — as ranked by the NET — would be required to play in the Fox event even if they are invited to the NIT. Those three leagues have rights deals with Fox. […]
“We like the idea of it, although there are some details that need to be ironed out,” one league source told The Messenger. “This would create more postseason opportunities in men’s basketball, and it would also open up more spots for mid-major schools to play in the NIT.”
So, at second glance, this in fact seems like a very small deal. Fox wants to put together a weird little tournament with a bunch of power conference teams that weren’t good enough to get into the Dance proper? It wants to peel off some not very watchable teams from the NIT bracket? It wants to sell the rights to a little one-week 16-team field in Las Vegas after the second weekend of the tournament? You can instantly detect the college All-Star game vibes — another minor tourney-adjacent hoops event that annually pales in comparison to the tournament itself. Go for it, guys.
And then comes the third glance. The revelation. You sit there at your desk and tinker and think about it for a few minutes, and you stare off into the middle distance like Oppie, and then, whoosh, it hits you.
This isn’t some little goofy NIT competitor, some All-Star game-level nonsense. This is the movement of troops to the border. This is a military exercise with clear meaning.
This is the first maneuver in the coming battle for the soul of the NCAA Tournament. This is actually an existential threat.