OK, let’s get some housekeeping things out of the way.
First and foremost, it’s the National Invitation Tournament, not the National Invitational Tournament.
And secondly, joking that the NIT also stands for “No Important Teams” is cute and all, but it’s a bit harsh.
Now, there is no argument over the first issue … you can look it up.
The second? OK. The NCAA Tournament is the only postseason event that “matters,” but if you like college basketball – and like to watch off-the-radar schools compete in tournaments – the NIT can still be fun.
In the Big Dance, you get to see small schools from small conferences play on the sport’s biggest stage.
In the NIT, you might come across a team you forgot even existed. But sometimes those teams will put on great shows and score victories that are very important for their school.
Last year, for example, CSU Bakersfield stunned California, 73-66, in the first round, while Belmont shocked Georgia, 78-69 and Oakland rallied from a huge deficit to upend Clemson, 74-69.
None of those outcomes altered the landscape of college basketball, of course, but they raised the profile of the winners – even if it was just for a couple of days.
And that made it meaningful for them, even if it’s not meaningful for the person who spent hours filling out their NCAA brackets at work.
But the NIT is more than just a postseason consolation prize nowadays. Thanks to the NCAA, it is also a laboratory.
When it gets underway on March 13, it will be using rules that could conceivably go into effect in May, 2019 – the next time the governing body can officially alter its rules and regulations.
“The NIT is an exciting event with a rich tradition and history, yet it also provides us a platform to consider how the game might look in the future,” Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, said in a news release. “We’ve seen the adoption of recent experimental rules and how they have had a positive impact. This track record of the game evolving is a result of us having the flexibility to see if the rules work and are met with satisfaction.”
This year will mark the third time in four years experimental rules have been in place for the NIT, and the four changes this year are pretty big:
• The 3-point line will be extended by approximately 1 foot, 8 inches to 22 feet and 1.75 inches – the same distance used by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) for international competition.
• The free throw lane will be widened from 12 feet to 16 feet, the width used by the NBA.
• The games will be divided into four 10-minute quarters and teams will shoot two free throws beginning with the fifth foul of each quarter.
• The shot clock will reset to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound, instead of the full 30 seconds.
The changes are designed to give NCAAs rules, oversight and competition committees “data and feedback” as they consider changes to the game.
All rules used in the NIT have been on the table before, but this will be the first time for coaches and officials to see them in action.
“The style of play in men’s college basketball is healthy and appealing, but the leadership governing the game is interested in keeping the playing rules contemporary and trending favorably,” Gavitt said. “Experimenting with two significant court dimension rules, a shot-clock reset rule and a game-format rule all have some level of support in the membership, so the NIT will provide the opportunity to gather invaluable data and measure the experience of the participants.”
I think the four quarter format is long overdue. It’s used in virtually every other level of basketball and it just makes sense for the NCAA men to join the party.
I’m also intrigued by the wider lane. While basketball is not supposed to be a contact sport it most certainly is. However, this could make it less so and also increase the number of driving buckets.
It’s a highly significant alteration.
I don’t have strong feelings one way or another about the increased length of 3-pointers, but I am hopeful the clock reset will quicken the pace of games.
The thing is, there’s a chance none of these rules will be part of college basketball come 2019.
But then again, they might.
Sure, the “No Important Teams” moniker isn’t going away; the NIT will always pale in comparison to the NCAA Tournament.
But it still has a place. Hey, maybe going forward we should think of it as the National Innovation Tournament.