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Cougs wait by phone

Sun., March 15, 2009

Chance to play in NIT heads wish list

PULLMAN – The news will come down sometime this evening. Washington State University’s men’s basketball team will continue its season.

Where, when and in which of three postseason tournaments – those particulars might take a little while longer to figure out.

The only thing for sure is the Cougars won’t make a third consecutive NCAA appearance. But, for only the second time in school history, they will appear in the postseason for three years in a row.

“I won’t say there is a 100 percent chance, because you never know what may happen,” said Steve Robertello, WSU’s associate athletic director, charged by athletic director Jim Sterk as the point man on all postseason discussions this year.

“But I think you can put it’s very likely we will have a postseason game at this point, but I don’t want to say 100 percent.”

It’s likely the Cougars will be trying to improve on their 17-15 record.

If they have a choice, it would be as part of the 32-team National Invitational Tournament.

“That would be awesome,” WSU coach Tony Bennett said of playing in the NIT after his team’s loss to UCLA on Thursday. “Any of you guys got any friends, give them calls and let us know.”

“I think so,” Sterk said when asked if the NIT was his No. 1 choice. “I know so. I think playing in Madison Square Garden would be a great thing.”

The NIT, which will announce its field on an ESPNU special at 6 p.m., still holds its Final Four in the famous New York arena, but otherwise the longest-running postseason basketball tournament has a new feel.

The NCAA bought the tournament in 2005, settling an anti-trust suit in the process. Now the NIT is almost a consolation prize for teams that don’t get into the NCAA’s field of 65, with all regular-season conference champions guaranteed a berth.

That doesn’t affect schools like WSU much – the Pac-10 champion is getting into the NCAA every year – except the more regular-season midmajor titlists upset in their conference tournaments, the fewer NIT at-large berths there are available.

“It’s tough to say anything for sure, but I think we have a great shot at playing in the NIT,” Sterk said. “They don’t make any decisions until after everything is done and they have to see what happens with the NCAA tournaments.”

The College Basketball Invitational, which began last year, is trying to fill its 16-team field now.

“They’re interested in us and I would say they’ve extended us an informal invitation,” Robertello said Friday. “Nothing definite or lined up, but obviously they’re very interested. If we wanted to or went down that road, we could obviously say yes right now.”

WSU is keeping its options open. After the NCAA announces its field of 65 starting today at 3 p.m., expect Sterk, Bennett and others to receive phone calls and weigh options.

“We’ll huddle,” Sterk said. “Obviously, Tony is a big part of that. I want to get his preference of what he would want to do. But, ultimately, it ends up in my lap.”

Sterk said he wouldn’t rule out hosting, although this is spring break week at WSU and filling Beasley Coliseum without the students would be a challenge. Before committing to a home game, WSU would want to know the opponent and the financial bottom line, Sterk said.

The formula varies by tournament.

If the Cougars host an NIT game, they would deduct their expenses – usually around $15,000 – from the gate and send the rest of the revenue to the NCAA. After the tournament is over, the organization takes whatever revenues were earned at all the sites, deducts its expenses and shares the profits with all the participants. Each game played earns a school a share. Play five games, get five shares.

The CBI and tournaments need an up-front guarantee, the CBI, $60,000, collegeinsider, $28,500. Add in the $15,000 or so to put on the game and the costs to host range from around $75,000 (CBI) to $43,500 (collegeinsider). Anything collected after that is profit kept by the host school.

Distance is also not a concern with the NIT. Last season the group sent San Diego State to Florida for a first-round game. With each team seeded like the NCAA tournament, the matchups fall where they will.

It’s not that way with the other two. Geographic proximity and travel costs play a major role in deciding whether you get in and who you’ll play.

The NIT also pays for a larger traveling party (25) than the others (22).

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