SportsProf

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

NIT, NCAA Settle Lawsuit; NCAA To Buy NIT?

Many years ago, around the time that the Boys of Summer won their only World Series, the NIT was the bigger deal. You had to be invited to play in that tournament, and, as such, it had more prestige than the NCAA Tournament. Since the early 1960's, when the NIT let the NCAA invite teams to the latter's tournament first, the NIT has skiied downhill with little chance of reversing its momentum. Primary evidence of college hoops gravity (something that even Jim Harrick, Jr. couldn't have tested in his classic test for his college hoops course while at Georgia).

The NIT, a vestige of when NYC viewed itself as the center of the college hoops universe (in addition to being the center of the universe for virtually everything else), believed that the NCAA wanted to push it under the bus. So, it filed a lawsuit, claiming that the NCAA had created a monopoly in violation of the antitrust laws. Suffice it to say that the NIT believed that since it couldn't win on the court, it had to win in court.

We do live in a litigious society, and you could argue that the NIT went into court because it knew it was licked on the court. In other words, file a lawsuit, give the NCAA a pack of trouble, and then get a good settlement. Or, you could argue that the NIT was backed into a corner (by an entity that was trying to corner the market) and rightly sought redress in the courts because it had no chance to win on the court. Litigants who have nothing to lose can be dangerous, and the NIT, given its scrawny status when compared to the NCAA post-season Big Dance, had very little to lose except for its legal bills (and it's an open question whether its lawyers pursued the case on contingent fee basis or not). On the other hand, while desperate litigants can pose trouble, if they don't have much of a case, then the other side simply has to wait them out (and spend a bunch of money in the process). No matter how you look at it, prolonged litigation probably wouldn't have benefited either side in the long run.

In any event, the NCAA and NIT have decided to settle their lawsuit. That detail came out last night. What just came out today is that the settlement might involve the NCAA's buying the NIT. That's what USA Today is reporting today.

Professor Michael McCann of the Sports Law Blog has an excellent take on the situation as well (he posted before the news broke that the NCAA might purchase the NIT). The settlement bears watching. If, on the one hand, the NIT claimed that the NCAA was trying to monopolize college hoops by trying to put it out of business, how can the parties justify the settlement in light of the monopolization argument if the NCAA buys the NIT? The answer probably lies somewhere within the recesses of the bright minds representing the NCAA, who will argue that the NCAA doesn't have a monopoly over college hoops and won't after what they will deem to be this insignificant purchase.

If the NCAA purchases the NIT, what will happen to the NIT-sponsored events? Will there be a post-season tournment for those also-rans who didn't make it into the NCAA tournament? Or will the NCAA simply expand its post-season tournament to 128 teams (or at least a 128-team bracket populated by 96 teams, thereby giving 32 conference champions or the Top 32 ranked teams in the country a first-round bye)? After all, those who do mergers and acquisitions for a living look for synergies, and it doesn't appear on its face that the NCAA would want to run two separate post-season tournaments. Think of the attractiveness of a longer March Madness period. The possibilities could be very lucrative for the NCAA, while eliminating the distraction of the NIT.

As for the pre-season NIT, who knows? That seems to be an exciting tournament, although it transpires so early in the season that many well-rounded sports fans are still paying attention to their favorite college and professional football teams. That tournament might be worth keeping.

Stay tuned.

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