Though it’s nowhere near the commercial entity of March Madness, the National Invitation Tournament, or NIT, is a very profitable business for the NCAA. In 2019, the last year the event was held, it turned a $2.1 million profit on $3.3 million in expenses, according to financial documents. In 2018, the numbers were similar.
As a comparison, the 2019 women’s NCAA basketball tournament ran a $2.8 million deficit on $14.5 million in expenses.
The NIT was even more profitable last year amid the pandemic. Though the NCAA’s media payments from CBS and Turner fell from $827 million to $113 million when it canceled March Madness, its ESPN contract, which covers a host of events including the NIT, was paid in full. With an intact TV allotment and almost no expenses, the NCAA’s NIT division turned a profit of $3.7 million.
The NCAA has a complex way of rewarding teams for participating in March Madness. For the NIT, it’s much simpler. In addition to having travel, hotel and other expenses comped, each school in the NIT is given $4,000 for every game it plays. It’s a total payout pool of $128,000 this year.
The NIT, which dates back to 1938, was once the nation’s premier postseason college basketball tournament, but it was gradually overshadowed by March Madness. It has become a tournament for good teams not invited to the NCAA tournament, and in 2005 amid an antitrust lawsuit filed by the tournament owners, the NCAA agreed to purchase the NIT and its preseason sister tournament for $56.5 million.
In non-pandemic years, it is a 32-team tournament hosted on campuses in the early rounds, with the semifinals and finals played in New York’s Madison Square Garden. This year, the NCAA brought 16 teams down to the Dallas suburbs for a COVID-19 bubble. Mississippi State plays Memphis at 12 p.m. ET in the final on Sunday.
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