March has arrived once again, so you know what that means: postseason college basketball in America.
The vast majority of U.S. sports fans, both casual and rabid, will be glued to TV sets for the three-week period of the NCAA Tournament. Some of the country’s hoops lovers will tune in to ESPN for the games of the National Invitational Tournament, especially if their alma mater is competing in the event.
But only a fraction of American sports fandom will be paying attention to the other two postseason men’s college basketball competitions: the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) and the College Insider.com Tournament (CIT). More than likely, a larger percentage of U.S. fans don’t even know these two tourneys exist, much less who’s playing in them.
Which begs the question: if you’re a college hoops program, is it even worth it to play in the CBI or the CIT? Or is it just a waste of time and resources?
CBI vs. CIT: A Closer Look
Although the two tournaments are similar in many ways, there are a few differences in their format and makeup. Both events pick from the Division I teams that are not invited to the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, and none of the games are played at neutral sites.
The College Basketball Invitational (produced by sports marketing firm Gazelle Group) consists of 16 teams, all of which bid for the opportunity to host games. The unique aspect to the CBI is that its finals consist of a best-2-out-of-3 series instead of a single championship game. Participants range from small schools (such as Morehead State, Radford, and South Dakota State in 2014) to those programs who finished in the lower half of power conferences (like Texas A&M, Oregon State, and Penn State). Two quarterfinal games and the entire championship series airs on CBS Sports Network (the cable sports channel of CBS).
The College Insider.com Tournament is a 32-team tournament in which there is no set bracket, although all games are played at the site of the higher-seeded teams. In an effort to minimize travel time and costs (and maximize fan appeal), the CIT strives to keep subsequent round pairings as regional as possible; meaning that no team knows its next round opponent until the entire current round is complete. Also unlike the CBI, the CIT gears its selection process toward mid-major schools (like Valparaiso, Holy Cross, and East Carolina) so you won’t see any big-name conference schools in the field. But unlike the CBI, CIT teams must have a winning record overall. CBS Sports Network also televises the CIT “Final Four” on its network.
Some Schools Snub CBI, CIT
The result is that schools with seemingly “average” records have a legitimate shot and playing in either of these two lower-profile college basketball tournaments. Depending on your basic opinion about the existence of the CIT and the CBI, you may or may not be surprised that some schools actually turn down invitations to these tournaments in favor of simply ending their seasons.
The most direct snub in 2014 came from the University of Indiana, a storied program with five NCAA championships to its name. After failing to make the NCAA and NIT this year, IU athletic director Fred Glass told media outlets that the Hoosiers would pack it in this season, saying “We’re Indiana. We don’t play in the CBI.”
Southern Miss was a little more diplomatic. After failing to make the NIT despite an impressive RPI of 63, head coach Larry Eustachy said of the invites to the CBI and CIT “We have missed too much school as it is, so we have decided to respectfully decline their invitations.” Ironically, the Golden Eagles accepted a CIT bid in 2013, and would have probably been the top seed in either the CIT or the CBI this year.
Buffalo is another former CIT participant (in 2011 and 2012) who said “thanks, but no thanks” to an invitation this year. No formal explanation was given, but some considered the decision curious given that the Bison have only been to the NIT once and have never been invited to the Big Dance. Mississippi State and Middle Tennessee State also both rejected opportunities to continue their seasons after being left out of the NCAA tournament and the NIT (although MSU, playing in the SEC, would not have been invited to the CIT).
Why Stay Home? Maybe It’s Too Expensive
Though it’s rarely mentioned officially, one factor that may lead some schools to refuse invitations to the CBI or CIT is perhaps the most basic: money. Both the CBI and the CIT require host schools to “guarantee” a certain amount of money to tournament officials if they wish to host a game. For the CIT, the approximate amount is $30,000 per home game. But for the CBI, the price tag is steeper: schools must commit $35,000 for a first-round matchup, $50,000 for a quarterfinal, and $75,000 for each semifinal and finals game (and don’t forget, that could be as many as three finals games). And in either case, teams that play on the road still have to allocate funds for travel costs for up to five (or even six) games.
However, it’s important to note that (contrary to popular belief), most collegiate sports do not make money for their schools. While most football programs are profitable as are high-profile men’s basketball programs (Louisville, for instance, earns an average profit of $1.35 million per home game); almost every other NCAA sport is a net loser on the balance sheet for schools. So unless you’re a basketball program like Indiana (which grosses about $18.2 million per season), additional costs for postseason play are nothing new.
Any Extra Games Are Welcome
Plus, there’s the obvious upside of additional practice time and competition for any team that makes the CIT or CBI. For instance, Old Dominion, which finished the season with a 16-17 record, was invited to play in the CBI this year. Head coach Jeff Jones was excited about the opportunity, saying, “If you get a chance to play, regardless of circumstances, you want to play. This is ideal for a squad like ours, that’s trying to find itself and trying to build something back.” The Monarchs are no stranger to these lower-profile events; in 2009, they won the CIT and went on to make the NCAA tournament the following season.
The bottom line? Participation in the CIT or CBI largely depends on the individual school. While larger programs might opt to hang up their high tops if they are left out of the NIT or the Big Dance, smaller schools, young teams, and up-and-coming programs might seize the chance to end the year on a high note and build momentum for the next season. Although the national TV exposure may be minimal, and most people won’t be closely watching the results like they would their March Madness brackets, the CBI and CIT both offer value to the schools that choose to make the most of their selections.