You won’t see the alumni in their school colors riding NJ Transit or using another mode of transportation. No fans and students of the schools soaking in the scene, phones in full photographic use, of midtown Manhattan as they trek to the Garden. No pregame and post game gatherings at the chosen watering holes. For the second time in its long history, the NIT ‘Final Four’ will not be held at the ‘world’s most famous arena’. The NIT semifinals and final will be played at Las Vegas. They say there is a chance the tournament could head back to MSG but the outlook is not good.
The NIT, the nation’s oldest post season tournament, began in 1938. For the record, Temple captured that first championship. Every game was contested at the Garden until 1977 when early rounds were played on campus. Every NIT final four except two called New York home. In 2020, there was no NIT, the Pandemic ended the college season on March 12. A year later, the Pandemic still showed its effect, with many games staged in empty arenas. The NIT was played at Denton and Frisco, Texas. It returned to MSG last year before the NCAA decided to try different sites.
North Texas, Utah Valley, UAB and Wisconsin are in the NIT final four. Among the group, Utah Valley and North Texas never took the Garden floor. UAB has been here a few times. Wisconsin, a more frequent visitor, played in some early season events, the Big Ten Tournament and the 2017 East Regionals. Regardless, it’s safe to say all four and their fan base would have loved to make the trip to New York.
The recently completed NY Regional of the NCAA tournament served as a reminder of how special New York and the Garden can be. A number of FAU fans, here for the first time, mentioned how ‘awesome’ it was to be at the Garden and have their team playing at the historic venue. The FAU players naturally were thrilled with winning the regional and punching their ticket to Houston. They also had a great respect and admiration for all the history the Garden offered.
The FAU fan base made the building on 8th and 33rd rock for two nights. They had their own ‘Garden Party’. It rekindled memories of how out of town fans with their team on a roll also raised the decibel level in the NIT semis and/or finals. It didn’t always play out this way but when it did it was special.
This year will be different for the NIT. No winning team cutting down the nets as their fans pose take selfies with the final score still displayed to provide a not to be forgotten background. No team pictures on the Garden’s center court. No dance teams and/or cheerleaders dancing post game to ‘New York, New York’ on the sound system. Those scenes are now filed away as a memory.
The four will meet in Vegas. Semis set for March 28 and the final the 30th. It’s still the NIT, a personal favorite. The move out of MSG though, leaves a feeling that the history has been brushed aside. Probably for the almighty dollar. It’s unfortunate. The NIT final four belongs at Madison Square Garden. The NIT is a national tournament but has been ingrained in New York basketball culture for decades. The NIT champion should be crowned on the Garden floor. Hopefully, for the sake of tradition the tournament will return. Soon.