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Tuesday, August 16, 2005
NCAA in talks to purchase, operate older rival

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

The NCAA is negotiating to buy the NIT preseason and postseason tournaments as part of the settlement during the NIT's antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, multiple sources told ESPN.com Tuesday night.

NCAA spokesperson Wally Renfro wouldn't confirm or deny the details of the settlement.

Earlier Tuesday, lawyers on both sides announced that the NIT and NCAA had settled their differences in a lawsuit in which the NIT claimed the NCAA was trying to put it out of business through a monopoly. The NCAA rule states that teams must play in the NCAA Tournament over the NIT. The NIT began its tournament in 1938, a year before the NCAA Tournament started, and was once considered the more prestigious of the two events.

Renfro did confirm that the NCAA executive committee held a conference call Tuesday night to discuss the litigation. Renfro said the committee had been briefed throughout the litigation. He said the executive committee would have to sign off on any settlement.

Sources also told ESPN.com that ESPN and Madison Square Garden had to sign off on the deal since the two companies need to consent to the assignment of their contracts with the NIT, which is sponsored by MIBA (Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association). A source said the two parties had to sign off on the deal by close of business Wednesday.

The MIBA is a collection of five New York-area schools: Fordham, Manhattan, St. John's, Wagner and NYU.

ESPN televises the 16-team Preseason and the 40-team postseason NIT. Both tournaments end with the semifinals and finals at Madison Square Garden in New York.

A source close to the situation also told ESPN.com that an NCAA executive said on a conference call earlier Tuesday that a solution had been reached to maintain the NIT and the NCAA Tournament.

An attempt to reach an ESPN programming executive Tuesday night was unsuccessful.

But what the NCAA would do with the NIT is still unknown. A number of sources told ESPN.com that the NCAA wasn't sure if it would run both events and if so how.

The NCAA could also expand the field of 65 and could eliminate the NIT, although that would seem less likely. One source said this settlement unifies college basketball and that the NCAA wants to ensure the postseason NIT continues, since it is a storied event. The NCAA wants to make the NIT a better event for student-athletes and fans, the source said, a move that would be in the best interest of the game.

Details regarding the logistics of selection and how the tournaments would be conducted remain to be determined.

It remains to be seen if there is any impact on other exempted tournaments like the EA Sports Maui Invitational, the Guardians Classic, the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic and the like if the NCAA is in the business of running its own exempted event. it is not known whether the NCAA would keep the "2-in-4" rule that limits teams to two exempted tournaments in four seasons.

Currently, the Preseason NIT, like every other tournament, is subject to the 2-in-4 rule.

NIT executive director Jack Powers would only confirm that he didn't know the fate of the 2005 Preseason NIT, but assumed it wouldn't be touched since the tournament was all set. The headline teams are Duke, UCLA, Memphis, Alabama and Temple. A source said the settlement would become effective immediately and the NCAA would manage the 2005 Preseason NIT in its current format.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.