Men’s and women’s Division I HBCU basketball teams are off to solid starts in non-conference play, notching several wins over high mid-major and Power Five opponents.
But the current success might not matter come March if a Black college basketball team doesn’t get into the coveted NCAA Tournament.
The National Invitational Tournament has routinely been a secondary avenue for mid-major regular season conference champions to play in the postseason if they could not earn an automatic bid to the field of 68.
That will change this season after the board of managers adjusted qualifying rules for its men’s and women’s postseason tournaments. Regular season champions who do not win their conference tournament and are not otherwise selected for the NCAA Tournament will not receive an automatic bid to the NIT.
Instead, the NIT will guarantee berths for two teams — based on the NET rankings — from each of the major six conferences: the Atlantic Coast, the Big East, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pac-12, and the SEC.
The NET (which stands for NCAA Evaluation Tool) was unveiled before the 2018-19 season, replacing Ratings Percentage Index. The NCAA worked with coaches and data experts to devise a predictive system that accounted for offensive and defensive efficiency, the quality of wins and losses and where games were played. Following the 2019-2020 season, the NET was adjusted to remove factors like scoring margin and winning percentage.
“The postseason college basketball landscape is becoming more competitive for teams that don’t qualify for March Madness,” he said in the statement announcing the move. “The change to the selection process for the 2024 NIT is a necessary effort to evolve this historic tournament in a dynamic event marketplace.”
The top two teams in the NET rankings not qualifying for the NCAA tournament from each conference, regardless of win-loss record, will be selected. Additionally, the board said that the 12 teams automatically selected will be guaranteed the opportunity to host a game in the first round of the NIT.
Under that model, the Jackson State and Morgan State women’s basketball teams possibly would not have made the NIT last season. In the 2022-23 season, the Tigers had a 99 NET ranking. The Bears NET ranking was 266.
HBCUs would be ‘shut out of the equation’
MEAC Commissioner Sonja Stills said she was “extremely disappointed” with the decision.
“I am extremely disappointed in the decision to make such a major change that will significantly impact mid-major programs, especially HBCUs,” Stills said in a statement to HBCU Sports. “Not having an opportunity to provide feedback on a decision like this goes against our efforts to provide opportunities for all student-athletes to participate in postseason play. This will have a tremendous trickle-down effect in which more third-party promoters or entities will pop up and attempt to host postseason events.
“In addition, there will be a lack of diverse institutions participating in the NIT. The HBCUs will most likely be shut out of the equation.”
Non-conference wins needed to boost HBCUs resume
Charles McClelland, the commissioner of the SWAC and chair of the Division I men’s basketball committee, explained that the NIT is not controlled by the NCAA and can unilaterally — through its own board — make decisions on how the tournament is operated.
“That board had to do what was best for the NIT,” McClelland said. “Unfortunately, we (the SWAC) lose an (automatic qualifying) opportunity. “We want to continue to build our programs where we are competing at the highest levels and not just relying on the AQ. When you look at our basketball across the board, our scheduling has been significantly enhanced.”
The commissioner indicated that the series of current non-conference wins HBCU teams have gathered could go a long way in schools earning postseason bids.
Per Warren Nolan, the MEAC ranks 32nd in conference NET rankings, while the SWAC is 31st.
“Those out-of-conference wins will help us at the end of the year if there are NIT slots, not just relying on an AQ but getting a berth based on our overall competitiveness in basketball,” McClelland said.
Wilberforce University will be the third HBCU to form a gymnastics program. https://twitter.com/hbcusports1/status/1759267653254873187?s=46&t=NPFjWlxAzW3wZ9iBa1Vfzw “The introduction of a gymnastics team aligns with our commitment to provide inclusive athletic programs...