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On This Date in Sports March 16, 1938: The First NIT

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Temple wins the inaugural National Invitation Tournament, beating Colorado 60-36 at Madison Square Garden. The tournament, founded by the Metropolitan Basketball Writers, is the first for top-level college basketball programs. The first tournament featured just six teams, with all games at the Garden, with LIU-Brooklyn, New York University, Oklahoma A&M, and Bradley being the other four teams. The NCAA would follow suit and begin its own tournament a year later.

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is the main event of March, as 68 teams vie for the National Championship, while the National Invitation Tournament is often a consolation for teams that did not get their chance to dance. At one time, however, NIT was considered the more desirable tournament. With the championships of the NIT in New York, in the early days, teams looking for a postseason bid were more interested in the NIT, with some teams even claiming that this was where the actual National Champion was crowned.

In the early days of both tournaments, teams could even play in both, as CCNY beat Bradley in the NIT and NCAA finals in 1950. However, shortly after that, CCNY and several other teams for the NIT were caught in a big point-shaving scandal that threatened the very future of basketball. After the dust settled, teams were allowed to play in just one tournament as the NCAA took a tighter rein on basketball.


As the NCAA Tournament grew into the one true championship, the NIT remained prestigious as the Big Dance limited invites to one per conference, allowing the NIT still to invite some of the best teams in the country. As late as 1970, Marquette, ranked eighth in the country, chose the NIT over the NCAA due to being able to play closer to home. However, as the NCAA Tournament grew to 32 teams and later 64 teams, the NIT began to fade. In 1974, after a heartbreaking loss in the ACC Championship, Maryland turned down an invite to the NIT, beginning its decline.