I will freely admit we got a little snarky in taunting the Gazelle Group, the organizers of the College Basketball Invitational, or CBI, on Sunday night. It was getting near 11 p.m. Eastern, long after the NCAA Tournament, NIT and CIT participants had been announced.
Yet the CBI was silent on its participants.
We will admit that we thought there were not a lot of people waiting to see who would be in the CBI (although anyone reading this has proved otherwise with the number of page views on our schedule post). It felt that there were just a few of us holding out for the schedule, and a couple of diehards hoping their team would be in the field.
As soon as the CIT first round was announced, I refreshed the CBI page, sure that they would be right behind. After all, the CBI had tweeted this just a few days earlier, which seemed to indicate that we would be wowed by the field.
Wow! Only 4 days until CBI #SelectionSunday. On track for the strongest field ever. #CBI2015— College BBall Invit. (@CBItourney) March 11, 2015
So we sat and waited and kept refreshing. It became this silly club of CBI hopefuls, even as we saw tweets that indicated that team after team was saying 'No' to the tournament.
It didn't look good.
At what point does the CBI just take their ball and go home, or field a less than complete field?— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) March 16, 2015
As the clock moved later and later, we received word from a source with knowledge of the field, that teams who had committed were beginning to think that this wasn't happening, that the CBI for this season would just disappear in a puff of smoke.
What else could you think when you see teams like Michigan and Florida State and others turning down the chance to play?
Just after 11 p.m. Eastern, the bracket was revealed though, and all was... well, somewhat OK in the world of a third-tier college basketball tournament. The final field had nothing to be overly excited about. There are a number of solid teams -- lower conference contenders who weren't quite good enough to make the NIT. And the only major conference team was Colorado who finished below .500 overall.
Strongest field? There are probably better terms for it.
So what do you do about a tournament like the CBI? Here you have a tournament, which goes after both big conference and small conference teams, and then has them pay to host a game during the tournament.
And that is not just one game, but multiple games if the teams advance. This is probably why the field is limited to just 16 teams. Few schools would be interested in shelling out the money to stay home until the three-game final.
You see, that is where the difficulty lies with these third-tier tournaments. The CIT and CBI require teams to pay to host games during the tournament, and with little added benefit.
I can see if your team had five senior starters who had been there for four years. Maybe you want them to have one last chance to prove something in the postseason. I could see if you had a really young team that you were just starting to see gel. Maybe you want a little extra practice to get ready for next year, and some game experience to try some new things.
But those situations don't come around very often. You are more likely to have a mix of players, and just a mediocre team, and the time would be better used getting ready for next season off the court.
Both tournaments feel like bad bowl games, between 6-6 and 7-5 teams, where you get maybe a few alums in the area to come out, and a student bus or two. But really all you have is another day with a scheduled game. The schools are almost destined to lose money participating. It doesn't add up financially to play.
Now the CIT didn't seem to have issues filling their tournament, and there are actually some interesting games (Cleveland State vs. Western Michigan anyone?).
It seems like the CBI tried a little too hard to draw the big name schools into their mix. By the time they were snubbed, all of the best mid-majors teams were gone.
You have to wonder if, with such a high bar to entry, there isn't room for more than one tournament past the NIT, especially when the better promoted CIT is taking 32 teams into the mix and depleting the mid-major pool. If the CBI can't get major conference teams (who frankly get a lot more publicity and exposure from bowl games because they are actually on television) they aren't going to be left with a lot to work with.
This will be the 8th year of the CBI, and some teams have transferred success in the tournament into success on bigger stages. But mostly the champion has been forgettable.
With the monetary hurdles to overcome, and the lack of exposure (the finals are not exactly on every cable system), it seems that this should be the last year for the CBI. They learned their lesson trying to fill the field this year. It didn't come easy and had a lot of people on edge about their investment in the tournament.
Now we could offer an alternative...
I think we could field a tournament for this season, and find 16 mid-majors that want to play. We wouldn't even charge you to host. #MMMIT— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) March 16, 2015
But that would just be crazy talk.
Instead, we should re-examine if we need four postseason tournaments, especially when teams don't seem very eager to embrace what seems like the one at the bottom of the pecking order.