The Transfer Portal Isn’t Doing the NIT Tournament Any Favors

Now there's even less reason for college athletes to play in the second-tier tourney

The NIT tournament logo on the floor at the Barclays Center. Here's how the transfer portal is hurting the second-tier tournament.
The NIT Tournament has never generated the excitement of March Madness, and now things are getting worse.
Porter Binks/Getty

Always the red-headed stepchild of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament, the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) has become even more of an afterthought and substantially more irrelevant thanks to the rise of the transfer portal in college hoops, despite how ex-Indiana coach and current ESPN analyst Tom Crean feels about the topic.

Crean ripped into Indiana after the school joined St. John’s, Pittsburgh, Memphis, Ole Miss, Oklahoma and others in declining an invitation to take part in the second-tier tourney. For the Hoosiers, their loss to Nebraska in the Big Ten quarterfinals on Friday meant they failed to qualify for March Madness.

“I would want to coach. I would want to develop my team,” Crean said. “You’ve got bigger staffs than you’ve ever had. There’s plenty of time for the portal. There’s plenty of time to talk to recruits. There’s plenty of time to negotiate NIL deals. There’s not plenty of time to play. There’s not plenty of time to get your players on the floor and give them a chance to get better. There’s not plenty of time for guys to continue playing that may never get to play again. And that to me is absolutely ridiculous.”

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Crean, who led the Hoosiers from 2008 to 2017 and lost in the first round of the NIT to Georgia Tech in his final year coaching in Indiana in 2016-17, probably has a point. But the transfer portal, which opened on Sunday evening a few hours after CBS’s Selection Show and allowed some teams to process requests just after midnight, is a now a bigger problem for some teams than going against a zone defense.

Why? The portal is a means for players with an eye on the NBA (or a bigger NIL paycheck) to get themselves to a bigger program with more exposure and better competition. Playing in the NIT, which does tip off today but will get second billing on ESPN, is not going to help move the needle for any prospective pros, and players who are keen to transfer also don’t want to risk getting injured before they can switch schools.

Already damaging the ignored NIT when it comes to players, the transfer portal also hurts the tournament in another meaningful way. “Going to the NIT diverts attention from the portal both for players who need to start shopping and for coaches who need to start recruiting,” according to Front Office Sports. “And for some coaches and players, it might make more sense to prioritize acting early on the transfer portal over continuing deeper into the postseason. Teams like St. John’s, Pittsburgh, and Oklahoma that declined an NIT invitation aren’t just sticking it to the NCAA, but they are getting a head start on scouting new players for next year.”

Which makes sense. Playing in the NIT increasingly doesn’t — if it ever did.

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