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What’s the NIT? College basketball’s OTHER tournament, explained in a 2-minute read

College basketball’s fun consolation tournament is actually older than March Madness.

NCAA Basketball: NIT Championship-George Washington vs Valparaiso Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

So your team didn’t make March Madness and is instead in something called the National Invitational Tournament.

What is the NIT?

College basketball has a load of national March tournaments besides just Division I’s very loud March Madness spectacle. DI also has the NIT as its second-tier tourney, plus lesser brackets like the CBI and CIT. Division II and Division III also have their own tournaments.

The NIT is the battle to be the 69th-best college basketball team in all of the United States, basically.

The men’s NIT is televised on ESPN throughout March, mostly earlier in the week than the Big Dance’s games. The women’s NIT has had its title game on CBSSN.

Does this matter at all?

If you like basketball, players extending their college careers for a couple more days, and strange things, then yes.

Otherwise, it’s just about pointless, and I love it so much.

Where is the NIT?

The best part about the NIT: locations. Higher-seeded teams host almost every game on campus, often meaning better fan environments than some March Madness games (unless your fans happen to be unaccustomed to the glories of the lower tourney, of course). Easy ticket revenue and a lack of travel help convince power-conference snobs to accept NIT bids.

And the title game is in Madison Square Garden, a classic hoops venue and far better place to watch/play basketball than some of the 70,000-seat behemoths the NCAA Tournament’s tried out.

What does the NIT champ get?

A trophy and all that — they cut down the nets and everything! — but mainly some hope for the future. Since the NCAA’s 1985 expansion, NIT champs are slightly more likely to make March Madness the following year than not.

NCAA Basketball: NIT Championship-Georgia Tech vs Texas Christian Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

How old is the NIT?

It was founded in 1938, a year after basketball inventor James Naismith founded the NAIA tourney (which, these days, is essentially the top tourney for non-NCAA college teams).

The NIT was college hoops’ biggest deal for decades, offering trips to New York City with fewer stupid rules than the NCAA’s tourney. College hoops then became downright college football-y in its debates over which tourney winner should be considered the actual champ.

The NCAA overtook the NIT around 1971, when it declared teams with NCAA invites couldn’t choose to play in the NIT instead. Let 2019 Duke choose to play in the NIT instead, you coward!

Who runs the NIT?

The NCAA, actually. College sports’ governing (so to speak) body bought out the competition in 2005 for $56 million. The NIT’s antitrust lawyer, Jeffrey Kessler, remains a fierce NCAA opponent.

That means in 2006, the NIT’s selection committee went from just picking whoever ESPN wanted (like a bowl game!) to working like the NCAA’s committee. The NIT has a good idea of which teams will be left over once March Madness is done, and it quickly finishes off its bracket shortly after Selection Sunday’s main event.

Are there NIT bracketologists and everything?

Absolutely, you can find those. They have to think about not only which teams the NIT might want and how they might stack up, but before all that, which teams the big tourney doesn’t want. (Those few brave souls who bracketologize predictions for the CBI field have to take this thinking even further.)

The fun part about embracing the NIT mindset: while everyone else is rooting for/against bid-stealers from a March Madness viewpoint, you The NIT Fan are hoping for the kind of conference chaos that drops some big-name schools down into your lil competition.

I realize only like four people on earth identify in any way as fans of the NIT, other than people coming to terms with their team being in it. Some people do like it, though! It’s a whole lot like caring about pre-Christmas bowl games.

Is it still totally normal college basketball?

Normal basketball?? Yuck! The NCAA likes to use the NIT as a rule-changes laboratory.

Do teams decline NIT bids?

Unhappy fans of slumping powers always call for their teams to avoid sullying their pristine bodies with sub-stellar basketball, but almost all players choose to keep playing. A few teams have declined, like that time defending NCAA champ Louisville turned down the chance to very briefly be the defending champ of two different tournaments, like when Triple H was the WWE’s Heavyweight champ and Intercontinental champ.

More importantly, one time, Indiana accepted a trip to the tourney but declined to host, then lost an upset at Georgia Tech. You watch the NIT for oddity like that.