The Big East, Big 12 and Big Ten are in preliminary talks to potentially hold a 16-team, single-site postseason men’s basketball tournament for teams who didn’t earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament, sources confirmed to CBS Sports. There is no timetable on what year the event, to be held at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, would begin if it comes to fruition.
The three conferences have been engaged in talks because of their financial relationship with a broadcast partner — the Big East, Big 12 and Big Ten all have media rights deals with the Fox television network. Sources said that Fox has primarily been the driver on the discussions of this would-be tournament.
The Messenger first reported the discussions.
If such a made-for-TV bracket did materialize, it would destabilize the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). For nearly six decades, the NIT — which has lost some of its luster in recent years — has been the consolation destination for schools that do not make the coveted NCAA Tournament. If this yet-to-be-named Fox-run tournament came to be, it would mean teams from those three power conferences would forfeit their right to play in the NIT, sources said. That could threaten the NIT model.
The ACC and SEC, which are in business with ESPN, are hesitant at this stage to be a part of Fox’s endeavor, a source told CBS Sports. (ESPN still broadcasts the 32-team NIT, which is organized and paid for by the NCAA.) The resistance at this stage for all power conferences to be involved has devalued the proposition, as it would be a hodgepodge of underachieving teams without high-major uniformity, said one source who requested anonymity. (The Pac-12’s existence/standing in all of this remains wait-and-see.)
“Far from done,” another league source told CBS Sports.
But multiple sources predict it’s more likely than not that this setup eventually happens. If it does, it would mark the first time in the history of college basketball that a television network explicitly organized a postseason tournament. As The Messenger reported, in an effort to maximize its appeal, two major parts of Fox’s pitch are to build a third-party name/image/likeness element into the event (so players would be tempted to participate) and to hold it after the Elite Eight and before the Final Four.
That would have it competing with the end of the NIT championship on ESPN.
Even then, the proposition has challenges. Teams that fail to make the NCAA Tournament sometimes fire their coaches. Under this template, schools from the Big East, Big 12 and Big Ten would be waiting more than two weeks between the end of their conference tournaments and the Vegas-based Fox event. It’s unlikely that an athletic director on the verge of making a coaching change would wait two-plus weeks just to send a team to Las Vegas for a few days.
There are also potential complications with players who opt to end their seasons and seek a transfer elsewhere. Failing to make the NCAA Tournament is prone to breeding roster turnover. There is a chance some teams could still turn down this opportunity or, short of that, send thinner rosters and/or smaller coaching staffs.
As of now, talks are centering around just men’s basketball teams playing in the tournament.
The event could also pull more coaches away from attending the Final Four which, beyond serving as the culmination of the men’s college basketball season, has long been the time and place for thousands of coaches from across the country to network, reconnect and push ideas forward to enhance the sport.