Wednesday brought the announcement that the NCAA will buy the preseason and postseason NIT from the five New York-area universities who used to run those tournaments. Congratulations to both parties for avoiding litigation. I doubt this is kind of the natural accumulation of market share that antitrust law would allow, but whatever. As usual, my interests lie elsewhere.
It is time to fix the preseason NIT. And this is my plan.
There are 31 conferences and 8 independent teams in Division I college basketball. Ken Pomeroy includes the independents as a conference-like grouping and lists them all by conference RPI here. (You might as well open that page in a separate window or tab, because I'll be referring to conference RPI a lot.)
First, choose 24 teams, starting with one team from each of the top 16 conferences. That's 16 teams. Then split the bottom 16 conferences into two sets of 8 conferences, whose representatives will alternate from year to year. Those are the remaining 8 teams.
Second, divide those 24 teams geographically into 6 groups. Each group will have one team from one of the top 6 conferences: the ACC, Pac-10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, and SEC. The remaining 3 teams in each group will be from mid-major or minor conferences and will be within a reasonable distance of the team from the top 6 conference. For example, if the representatives of, say, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and the Atlantic 10 were Charlotte, Middle Tennessee, and Richmond, then they might be put in a bracket with an ACC team like Wake Forest. But if those same conferences were represented by St. Louis, Western Kentucky, and Xavier, then it would make more sense to place them in a bracket with, say, Indiana of the Big Ten.
Third, each group of 4 teams would play one another in a round robin format, with the home team determined by the conference RPI of the previous season. So in the first example above, Wake Forest would host all three of its games, while Charlotte would play two at home, and Middle Tennessee would get to host Richmond. Where the round robin ends in a two-way tie, the winner of that matchup advances. If there's a three-way tie, the team with the highest conference RPI advances.
Fourth, each winner of the 6 groups would go to New York City. Then, of the remaining 18 teams, the two second-place teams with the highest conference RPI would advance with at-large bids. Of those 8 quarterfinalists, the 3-0 teams would receive higher seeds than the 2-1 teams, with ties broken by conference RPI.
This format sounds complicated, but it really isn't. All 24 teams would be guaranteed 3 preseason nonconference games, and 8 of those teams would get to play up to 3 more games. (The NIT champ already plays 6 games, so this is hardly a scheduling burden.) Teams from minor conferences would get a mandatory shot at some of the bigger programs, even though they would always have to play them on the road. And the top 6 conferences can hardly complain, seeing as they're repeatedly given the advantage.
It wouldn't take that much time, either. The 3 round robin games for each team (6 total games for each group, or 36 games total) could take place within an 8-9 day period, accounting for TV exposure and travel. Then the Madison Square Garden games could be scheduled the following Thursday, Saturday, and Monday. With consolation games, that's four matchups each day, a better value to the ticket holder than what the Big East tournament offers in the same venue.
It's worth noting that these games would probably take place in early November, after the World Series is over. The NBA and NHL seasons are barely underway, and the NFL only dominates Sunday. There's an opening for a major sports draw.