The National Invitational Tournament sent out a memo to media on Friday afternoon, announcing a bevy of changes to their invitation procedures— most important of which was their new policy that regular season conference champions are no longer guaranteed an appearance in the NIT.
Under the new system, two teams apiece from the major basketball conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12 and SEC) would be selected as automatic qualifiers based on NET Ratings and offered the opportunity to host a first-round game, From there, the NIT Committee would select 20 at-large teams, with “deference” given to the “First Four Out” schools not selected by the NCAA. Those schools would be the other four hosts in the first round.
Perhaps the most important change is that any number of schools from the new “automatic qualifier” pool of major conferences can be selected for entry, a potential roadblock towards mid-majors joining the field.
“I am surprised and disappointed in the action announced today by the NIT Board of Managers,” Mid-American Conference commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher said via press release on Friday afternoon, shortly after the original announcement. “To make such a substantive change to the NIT Structure without providing a satisfactory explanation or building the foundations of such a change is troubling and leaves student-athletes, coaches and fans in a state of uncertainty.”
Steinbrecher currently serves as the vice chair of the NCAA Division I Council, and made it known the issue would be brought up quickly when the council next meets, saying the NIT’s move will lead him to focus even more on the discussion around the possible expansion of the NCAA Tournament.”
The changes the NIT undertook this afternoon are part of a changing atmosphere in postseason tournaments in general, with the NCAA discussing expansion of their tournament and FOX in discussions to create a 16-team invitational to compete with the NIT.
Mid-majors are under threat with all of the proposed changes, as the regular season champion rule was a major security blanket for teams who could not win their conference’s postseason tournaments. This rule, coinciding with more recent NCAA patterns in team selection, have created a lot of one-bid leagues which has made life even harder for conferences outside of the major six.
Other figures associated with mid-majors also spoke out in light of Steinbrecher’s comments, with Big Sky commissioner Tom Wistrcill saying he was “disappointed and concerned with the decision’s timing” in agreement with Steinbrecher’s comments, while College of Charleston athletic director Matt Roberts said he was “embarrassed for our industry” and put the NIT on blast for “minimizing the ‘little guys’ in favor of mediocrity and money.”
It’s to be determined how exactly the postseason hopes for mid-majors will look in practice when 2024 rolls around, but discussion will likely continue in various NCAA forums as the season rolls along.