NIT removes auto-bids for all conference champions, leaving low and mid majors behind

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Youngstown State faced Oklahoma State in the 2023 NIT. The new NIT rules could impact future participation by Horizon League teams. Photo courtesy of YSU Athletics/Robert Hayes

The National Invitation Tournament, also known as the NIT, has recently announced sweeping changes to its formula for selection.

In the tweet by Jeff Goodman, he lays out three important changes to the NIT’s new selection protocol.

  1. Conference auto-bids have been eliminated.
  2. Hosts will be selected from the best remaining NET ranking teams of the Power Six conferences in basketball (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC). Two teams from each conference will make up the 12 of the 16 host institutions.
  3. Remaining selections will be the remaining 20 best teams available, once again by NET ranking. The remaining four hosts are chosen from this lot, with preference given to First Four Out teams. These remaining slots can be filled by additional Power Six conference members, and they can also be granted the ability to host.

In a broad stroke, the NIT has fully eliminated low and mid major competition from ever again gracing the tournament’s presence. Not only has it carved away the ability for conferences to have postseason representation in the NIT should their be an upset in their tournaments, but it specifically carves out spots for the biggest conferences in the system, who need no help or representation to keep their programs afloat.

To briefly explain, the NCAA bases its rankings on a system that takes into account quality of wins in a system called quadrants. Your opponents ranking determines what quadrant a win or loss would fall into, with location factoring into the equation as well. Power conferences, by their nature, are ranked higher in the NET due to this system since they play each other in conference play. Leagues like Horizon or NEC can play upwards through buy games, but unless those games are won they do not help the overall NET ranking of themselves as a conference, and also relies on each member institution pulling those wins out.

For example, last year’s Horizon League champion Youngstown State was ranked 127 in the NET. This ranking would not have allowed Youngstown the ability to represent the Horizon League in the new version of the NIT.

Reactions to this change have been overwhelmingly negative on social media. As fans of low and mid major schools pour in the disgust for these changes, their cries are being echoed by administrators of those institutions.

Cleveland State’s Director of Athletics on the changes to the NIT.

This change in the NIT may require conference commissioners to re-evaluate their post-season pathways immediately. Now that the regular season champion has no added incentive of a post-season appearance in the NIT, it might be worth the while of the conference to change the format. Do you limit the pool of the tournament to reduce wear and tear on your teams and prevent major upsets, such as the 2017 Horizon League tournament where the 4 and the 10 seed faced off for the autobid? Or do you put emphasis on the regular season by mimicking what the Ivy League does and guarantee the regular season champion earns the coveted seat at March Madness?*

Either way, the NCAA has decided to leave its non-power conferences in the dust through this decision.

*Correction: The Ivy League gave their automatic bid to the regular season champion prior to the introduction of the postseason tournament in 2017. This wasn’t made clear in the original version.

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