Forty-seven years after he invented the game of college basketball, Dr. James A. Naismith stood at center court in New York’s Madison Square Garden and presented the National Invitation Tournament championship trophy to the undeated Blackbirds of Long Island University.
|About the National Invitation Tournament|
|Peter A. Carlesimo|
Tradition. The NIT is steeped in it. The nation’s oldest postseason collegiate basketball tournament was founded in 1938. The college game that was born and nurtured in tiny campus gyms and armories, came of age when the games were moved to public arenas to accommodate its ever-growing popularity.
A group of New York City sportswriters, known as the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association came up with the idea of creating a tournament to determine a national champion. The tournament plan was met with immediate success and grew so quickly that the writers felt that it was in the tournament’s best interest to turn its administration over to local colleges.
Thus, two years after its founding, the NIT was taken over by the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Committee (MIBC), and then, in 1948, the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association (MIBA) took charge. The MIBA was composed of representatives from five of the original members of the MIBC: Fordham University, Manhattan College, New York University, St. John’s University, and Wagner College.
A new chapter in the long and storied history of the NIT unfolded in August 2005, when the NIT, L.L.C., which is owned by the NCAA, took over the tournament reins. Another first in the 69-year history of the NIT is that an independent at-large committee chose the NIT field. The selection committee, all former Division I men’s head basketball coaches, is comprised of Hall of Famers C.M. Newton and Dean Smith, along with Don DeVoe, Reggie Minton, former NIT Executive Director Jack Powers and Carroll Williams. Newton , who brings more than 50 years of experience to the game of college basketball, will serve as committee chair.
The NIT had somewhat humble beginnings. The original field was made up of six teams and in 1941, expanded to eight. Subsequently, the tournament grew to 16 teams in 1968. The early editions of the NIT were played in the “old” Madison Square Garden, located between 49th and 50th Streets, where it remained for 30 years. It was in 1968, when another change took place. The NIT moved to the “new” Garden, described by the late Pulitzer Prize winning sportswriter, Red Smith, as “the most famous and glamorous arena in creation.” The Garden on 33rd Street. It is here that the NIT and the “World’s Most Famous Arena” continue their illustrious relationship.
In 1977, the late Peter A. Carlesimo, the former athletics director at Fordham University who served on the MIBA, took over as the NIT’s first full-time Executive Director. Fan interest was beginning to wane, and changes had to be made. Carlesimo, along with the MIBA, implemented a plan that would allow college basketball fans to see their local favorites in postseason play. The innovation involved playing at campus sites or local arenas throughout the country, with the four remaining teams coming to New York for the championship round. The first NIT game to be played outside of Madison Square Garden took place when Georgetown lost at Virginia Tech, 83-79. Tickets for the game sold out in three hours.
The revised format proved to be a rebirth for the NIT. So much so, the field was increased to 24 teams in 1979, upped to 32 teams in 1980 and finally 40 teams in 2002. After careful consideration the NIT Committee returned to a 32 team format in 2006, and the 2007 postseason field will feature 32 teams.
Throughout its history, the NIT has showcased some of the greats talents in college basketball. The list of coaches and players who have contributed to the countless memories and launching of careers is a long and impressive one. The NIT’s role has certainly changed in its almost seven-decade existence, but it still remains a vital part of collegiate basketball.