If I had to guess, I’d say that 99 and 44/100ths percent of Americans have no clue what the NIT is or that it’s in full swing at the moment. For the uninformed, the NIT is college basketball’s "other" tournament and is comprised of the teams not good enough to reach the NCAA’s "Big Dance."
Aside from the schools who participate in this non-event, no one, and I mean no one, cares about the National Invitation Tournament. In fact, the NIT should stand for the "Not Important Tournament." I honestly don’t understand how or why it still survives.
So, here’s a plan to re-create and re-position the NIT. Let’s start by focusing on the "I" in NIT, and switch its meaning from "invitation" to "innovation." My plan would call for inviting 64 college "teams" to descend on New York’s Madison Square Garden for a weekend’s worth of late March innovation. The teams could be as small as three or as large as 20. It wouldn’t matter. Teams would be "bracketed" just as they are in the NCAA (and, I’d open this up to every college and university in the land. Just submit a 500-word essay on why your school is innovative and our judges will select the best entries. Imagine Brookdale Community College taking on UNC in the opening round!).
As for the competition itself, I’d borrow a page from the Apollo 13 movie (and many internal Peppercom brainstorms), and challenge each team to come to the Garden’s center court and, in the space of 10 minutes, create something "innovative" (and workable) from an assemblage of everyday items (i.e. a rake, a needle, rope, an old tire, etc.). A panel of judges (and the fans in attendance) would evaluate each team’s performance in three key areas: poise, creativity and practicality.
As the competition unfolds, the original field of 64 would be whittled down to a Sweet 16 by the end of the first day.
On Day Two of my NIT, the drama would mount as the finalists are given fewer items and less time to create an innovative solution with the odds and ends. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, we’d have the two finalists and, eventually, the crowning of America’s "most innovative college."
Just think of the sponsorship opportunities. Just think of the reality program that could be built around the tourney. Just think of the human interest stories. And, at a time when everyone in America is lamenting our kids’ non-interest in math, science and technology, just imagine the "boost" such an event would give to our country’s interest in, and support of, innovation.
In my mind, the "new NIT" would make for a really cool and different type of "March Madness."