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The Madness Grows

2008 March 16
by Brad Humphreys

Selection Sunday has arrived. By nightfall the field of 65 teams that will participate in the spectacle known as the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament will be revealed. The much-discussed “bubble” will burst.

In the olden days, those left out of the field of 65 would skulk off to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) for a couple of additional home games and, if they shake off the disappointment of missing the Big Dance and play well, a potential trip to Madison Square Garden for the NIT finals. Those days are gone. The 2007-2008 college basketball season features a new entrant into the post-season men’s basketball tournament market, the College Basketball Invitational, a sixteen team elimination tournament sponsored by the Gazelle Group, a sport consulting firm that organizes several early-season college basketball tournaments like the College Hoops Classic in November.

The College Basketball Invitational has a television contract, albeit with Fox College Sports which is available on cable television providers that have roughly 46 million subscribers (I have no idea if the Fox Sports Channel is part of the basic cable package on these providers). The games will be played at on-campus sites, and the championship “series” consists of three games in a home-away-home format to be played on March 31st, April 2nd and April 4th (if necessary). The addition of the College Basketball Invitational means that 113 Division I men’s basketball teams will participate in some sort of postseason tournament this season.

The existence of a new entrant in this market raises some interesting economic questions. This tournament is in direct competition for teams with the NIT, and it will be interesting to see if it is able to induce any teams to defect from the NIT field in the first year. I have no idea what sort of payouts are made by the NIT to participating schools, but they are likely larger than those offered by this start-up tourney. The winner of the College Basketball Invitational could host up to five additional post-season basketball games which could generate substantial additional revenues, if there is demand for tickets. The long-run viability of any new entrant into a sports market is inevitably tied to television revenues, so the value of the television contract with Fox College Sports will likely have a large impact on the long-run viability of the College Basketball Invitational. It will be interesting to see if it can survive. Anyone interested in joining a CBI pool?

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