September 7 - NIT R.I.P.
It didn’t really cause a big ripple in our everyday sports world, not with our
hunger for the tiniest bit of NFL exhibition news, the Yankees and Mets’
run for October and the endless humidity. But the NCAA’s recent
acquisition (?) of the NIT struck home for a lot of people who grew up in
the collegiate athletic business here in New York. You see, no one knew
how to throw a party like the NIT and for administrators in the athletic
departments of St. John’s, Fordham, Wagner, Manhattan and NYU, the
NIT was like a wealthy uncle who visited every November and every
March like clockwork.
The NIT always treated their Final Four teams to a dizzying few days in New York, bestowing upon the
team’s travel parties terrific hotel accommodations, theater tickets to the top shows on Broadway,
game tickets for the players to a Knicks’ game (okay, okay), a pre-Final Four bash at Tavern On The
Green, you couldn’t script a better trip to New York than the one they provided for the four teams. For
the folks at the five MIBA schools listed above, it was a chance to reward their assistant athletic
directors, etc. to a few nights of fun on the town, on the tab of the sponsors/television partners.
Good stuff, huh? For me, however, the fun wasn’t in the theater tickets, Tavern On The Green, etc.
Those were certainly wonderful nights and with the price of decent theater tickets a bit steep for
assistant athletic directors, a welcome perk. But the real fun was being sent out of town as the ‘official
NIT representative’ to a first or second round game somewhere in America. My first ever trip was to
Morgantown to see WVU host Virginia (Terry Holland was coaching), and I nearly jumped out of my
skin when the Mountaineer fired that shotgun. Other memorable stops included Missoula, Montana
(TCU at Montana and I told EVERYBODY that this guy coaching Montana was a heck of a young
coach- two weeks later, he was at Stanford, Mike Montgomery), Murfreesboro, Tennessee (Boston
College at Middle Tenn. State) and Hattiesburg, Mississippi (Clemson, with freshman Eldon
Campbell, at Southern Miss). Best trip ever- 5 days with Billy Tubbs when he was head man at
Oklahoma. In between games, he took me with his staff in a private lear jet (4 seats + fully stocked
bar) to a junior college all star game in Kansas. Talk about a hoop junkie’s fantasy!
Other stops included Stillwater, OK to see Leonard Hamilton’s last win at Ok. State before taking the
Miami job (Bill Self was a grad asst.), St. Louis U., Arkansas-Little Rock hosting La. Tech (I’ll never
forget the smell of Barton Coliseum), Michigan State’s final game at Jenison Field House and
Wisconsin hosting U. of New Orleans (who had an energetic young coach named Tim Floyd). And
always, a seat at the scorer’s table with a radio interview scheduled for halftime.
Fond memories all of them, but the general feeling now is that the NCAA will now run the NIT and all
the fun stuff will be gone. However, the NIT will always have a special place in my heart and I’m sure
my colleagues around the collegiate sports scene will feel the same way. We will miss you, Uncle.
You were great fun.