March Madness is upon us again. This year, the men's college basketball postseason features some interesting economic madness across the board. For the second year in a row, there are four postseason tournaments. Here's a roundup of the four events:
- The NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship. The "Big Dance." 65 teams in a single elimination "knockout" tournament spread over three weekends in March and April. Games are held at predetermined neutral sites across the country. The big economic news here is that this could be the last year of the much-loved 65 team format, which has been in place since 2001. The tournament had a 64 team format from 1985-2000. The NCAA generates about 90% of its operating revenue from the massive 13 year, $6 billion contract with CBS to televise this tournament. The NCAA/CBS contract is in year 10, and the NCAA has an opt-out clause following this year's tournament broadcast. Much speculation revolves around the NCAA exercising that option, putting the broadcast rights for future tournaments up for bid, and expanding the field to as many as 96 teams. A new auction and expanded field could substantially increase the value of the contract. I am a big fan of the 64/65 team format, and would hate to see it go. The NCAA seems to have a strong incentive to change the format. Stay tuned.
- The National Invitational Tournament. The second tier postseason tournament. 32 teams in a single elimination "knockout" tournament. The finals are played in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Founded in 1938, the NIT is actually older than the NCAA tournament, and for a long time it was more prestigious. The NCAA has owned the NIT since 2005, when it purchased the rights to operate the tournament for 10 years from the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association (MIBA), a consortium of NYC colleges, for $56.5 million. The NIT and NCAA Tournament do not compete for teams; NCAA rules prohibit a team for turning down an NCAA bid for the NIT. Interestingly, Marquette University did just that in 1970, when Coach Al McGuire turned down the NCAA bid to play in the NIT closer to home. Marquette won the NIT that year. Most NIT games are televised on ESPN.
- The College Basketball Invitational Tournament. A sixteen team tournament operated by the Gazelle Group, a sports marketing company. Now in its third year of operation, the CBI has a single elimination format until the championship round, which is a best of three series between the last two teams. CBI games are held on campus. Up to 11CBI games will be carried on HDNet, an all hi-def channel that is available on many satellite and cable providers around North America. There is some anecdotal evidence that the CBI has tried to compete with the NIT for teams, but it has not been successful. Participants:Akron (24-10), Boston University (19-13), College of Charleston (21-11), Colorado State (16-15), Duquesne (16-15), Eastern Kentucky (20-12), George Washington (16-14), Wisconsin Green Bay (21-12), Hofstra (19-14), Indiana State (17-14), IUPUI (24-10), Morehead State (23-10), Oregon State (14-17), Princeton (20-8), Saint Louis (20-11), and Virginia Commonwealth (22-9).
- The CollegeInsider.com Tournament. A sixteen team single elimination tournament operated by, I think, the people who run the CollegeInsiders.com web site. This tournament is in its second year of operation. As best as I can tell, the CIT has no television coverage, but games will be streamed on Fox College Sports broadband. There appears to be quite a bit of competition between the CBI and the CIT for teams. A recent newspaper report on the CIT indicates that the Athletic Director at Marshall University, the #1 seed in the CIT, was offered bids to both tournaments and "struck a deal" with the CIT that included the possibility of playing 4 home games. The CIT financial model is to charge each home team $30,000 per game to participate and allow the home team to keep all gate revenues. participants: Fairfield (22-10), George Mason (17-14), Western Carolina (22-11), Marshall (23-9), South Dakota (22-9), Creighton (16-15), Harvard (21-7), Appalachian State (22-10), Middle Tennessee State (19-13), Missouri State (20-12), Portland (21-10), Northern Colorado (24-7), Pacific (20-11), Loyola Marymount (18-14), Southern Mississippi (20-13), and Louisiana Tech (23-10).
For those keeping score, 129 of the 342 Division I men's basketball teams are participating in one of these four postseason tournaments. The biggest issue in men's postseason college basketball is clearly the potential expansion of the NCAA Championship Tournament, which would have an impact on the other three.
There is only one team from a "Big 6" BCS conference in the CBI and CIT: Oregon State. Three BCS teams participated in the 2008 CBI (Washington, Cincinnati and Virginia), and three participated in the 2009 CBI (Stanford, Oregon State and St. John's). The University of Michigan ruled out participating in the CBI before bids were announced. No BCS team participated in the 2009 CIT. Unlike the NIT, these two tournaments allow participating home teams to keep a large fraction of gate revenues. which would seem to appeal to major conference teams that have large arenas and large numbers of fans and students.