KAPALKO: How about a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the NIT?

Jamie Kapalko

Only one team can be projavascript:replaceBreaks();double breaksm queen at the Big Dance. Every other team must inevitably go home disappointed, thanks to an unexpected upset or a heartbreaking buzzer shot. Many of these teams are unhappy with the results of their final games, but, for the most part, their seasons are successes. They are solid in regular-season play and perform well in conference tournaments; just making the tournament is often cause for celebration.Outside the streamer-adorned school gym, listening glumly to the DJ blast bleeped-out rap music for the 65 lucky ones, there are others. All of them would have loved to go to the dance; in fact, they’ve spent the entire school year sneaking glances at each other, showing off in the halls and in gym class, hoping to attract a date. Some of them expect to be invited, cutting out pictures of dresses they want and making pre-dance plans with friends.But when the time comes for dance invitations, these teams are let down. They are told that they will not be attending the Big Dance – but they will not be sitting home either. They aren’t as cute and popular as 65 of their classmates, but they are good enough to be ranked in the next 32. They get to go to the Little Dance.Most people at school don’t care about the Little Dance unless they’re going. The title of queen of this dance is meaningless to most, especially those going to the Big Dance. After all, no matter how shiny the tiara, this queen wasn’t good enough to earn the coveted invite. She’s not the best; she’s just the best when the best isn’t around.But let’s not forget, there are many other teams at neither dance who instead sit on the couch with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and a marathon of “The Hills.” And most of them would rather be at the Little Dance.The NIT is tough to figure out. On one hand, many of its participants are disappointed NCAA rejects. This year, the NIT’s No. 1 seeds are Mississippi State, West Virginia, Air Force and Clemson, all bubble teams that ended up on the outs. For many, making the NCAA tournament was a season-long goal and a testament to the team’s fulfillment of its potential. Failure to meet this goal can overshadow the high points of a team’s season – even, perhaps, victory in the NIT.”There were moments of delight and success, but we didn’t make the NCAA tournament, and that was the goal,” said Michigan athletic director Bill Martin. “To that extent, it was a disappointment.” The Wolverines’ disappointing finish led to the firing of Coach Tommy Amaker.On the other hand, a spot in the NIT is a sign of some respect. As University of Toledo Coach Stan Joplin said, “If you can’t be in the top 65, let’s be in the top 100. That was our reward for winning the regular-season championship. That does not diminish what the team did.”The NIT may not recognize a team as the best, but it recognizes teams as good, and that should be taken seriously.Interestingly, the NIT originated in 1938, the year before the NCAA tournament. It was the premier college basketball tournament in the country until the 1960s, when the NCAA became more popular and respected due to expansion, at-large bids and television publicity. The NIT did not cave easily; in 2005, its owners brought forth an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA. They argued that the NCAA’s requirement for invited teams to participate was illegal and won $56.5 million in a settlement that allowed the NCAA to control the NIT for 10 years.The night of the Big Dance, only one girl earns the shiny prom queen tiara. Sixty-four others bask in each other’s greatness, wishing they could wear the crown but also feeling honored to have been invited. Thirty-two attend a dance of their own, although they’d rather be at the other one. But many other girls’ dresses hang in the closet, so those at the Little Dance shouldn’t completely take their invitations for granted.University of Toledo senior Justin Ingram summarizes the complex mixed feelings of participating in the NIT best: “I am glad that my career’s not over yet. We still have a chance to win a championship in the NIT. At the same time, it’s a college basketball player’s dream to play in the NCAA tournament. It still hurts that we came up a little bit short.”———————Jamie Kapalko is a sophomore English major from Belmar, N.J. She can be reached at [email protected]