NIT claims NCAA's must-compete policy harmful

Updated: August 4, 2005, 9:04 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- A lawyer for the NIT took a shot at restoring the tournament's lost luster Tuesday, telling a jury that the NCAA's March Madness was purposefully ruining it.

Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer for the five schools which sponsor the preseason and postseason National Invitation Tournament, said the NCAA "willfully, deliberately set out to get a monopoly, to eliminate competition, to make it impossible to compete."

In a civil case projected to feature testimony from college presidents, coaches, athletic directors and economists, the NIT, the older of the two tournaments, is asking a jury to find that the NCAA violated federal antitrust laws.

Kessler said the NCAA had eliminated the NIT's chance to land the best teams for its postseason tournament.

"Playing the game with the NCAA is a rigged game," he charged in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, blaming the multi-billion-dollar business of college basketball for corrupting the NCAA. He said his evidence would include videotape testimony from Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight.

The NIT is challenging a long-standing NCAA rule requiring schools to accept a bid to its tournament over a bid to all others.

This, the lawyer said, severely damaged the NIT, sponsored by the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association, which consists of Fordham University, Manhattan College, St. John's University, Wagner College and New York University.

Kessler introduced four presidents of the schools and one former president to the jury, asking the men to stand.

He later explained that the NIT started its basketball tournament in 1938, a year before the NCAA began one, and once was so successful that many athletes played in both tournaments.

Gregory L. Curtner, the NCAA's lawyer, said the NCAA was made up of 1,024 schools, including the schools that sponsor the NIT.

He nodded in the direction of the school officials, which included two clergymen, as he told jurors that those five schools "want more money."

"They want to take it from the other 1,000 schools and put more of it in their pocket," he charged.

After featuring many of the best basketball programs in the 1940s and 1950s, the NIT faded in importance because it agreed in 1962 to let the NCAA choose teams for its tournament first, he said.

After losing a television contract and struggling financially, the NIT asked the NCAA for help in 1985. The NCAA let it conduct a preseason tournament whose games did not count against the total number each school was permitted to play.

"Far from trying to run the NIT out of business, the NCAA has helped keep it in business," Curtner said. "The NCAA will not say there is something bad about the NIT. The NCAA is not trying to drive it out of business."

At one point, Curtner accused the NIT of exercising a form of courthouse bad sportsmanship by waiting until 2001 to file its lawsuit, decades after its troubles began.

He noted that no school had ever complained about the rules that the lawsuit opposed or taken steps to change them.

Instead, he said, schools understand that the NCAA sponsors 88 championships in 23 sports and sets rules through a democratic system that benefits 360,000 athletes annually.

He said the NCAA was created in 1906 after 18 young men died a year earlier playing college football. The sport was so unregulated that schools used to bring in "ringers" or older men to give their teams an unfair advantage.

Now, he said, the schools decide how to distribute money from profitable college sports to support teams for women and sports that do not draw crowds.

"It is a truly democratic institution," he said. "It's like Congress."

He said the NCAA has twice considered eliminating the rule requiring teams to play in its tournaments but kept it because it feared that someday producers might try to cherry pick the best potential college championship matchups for made-for-tv events.

Kessler said the NIT is willing to accept its status as the second most important tournament.

"We're not seeking to change that," he said. "We'd just like it to be a fair competition and, of course, earn a little more money so we can make the tournament better."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press