It may seem ironic that the National Invitation Tournament, parts of which have taken place at New York’s Madison Square Garden for decades, is considered by most fans a consolation tournament in place of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship.
The Garden, nicknamed “The World’s Most Famous Arena” and located in the center of the most populous city in the United States, has held an array of prominent ice hockey and boxing competitions, a vast number of high-profile concerts, ice shows and circuses, and on Tuesday, it hosted the Terrapins men’s basketball team in the NIT semifinals.
But despite the grandeur of the arena and the fact that the Terps had their first tournament berth since 2010, many students were unimpressed. But some fans stayed tuned until the end as the squad defeated three teams and then fell to Iowa, 71-60.
“If you’re a fan and love the Terps, you’re paying attention no matter what,” said Jason Shapiro, a men’s basketball season ticket holder since 2006. “You like to see how they improve and develop throughout the season, not just how they perform when it’s a huge game.”
Shapiro doesn’t care that the NIT is often referred to as the “Not Invited Tournament”, “Never Important Tournament,” “Nobody’s Interested Tournament,” “Needs Improvement Tournament,” “National Insignificant Tournament” or even “Not in Tournament.”
Students who lose interest in the postseason because the Terps aren’t in the NCAA tournament are comparable to the fans who only show up to conference games during the season, said Shapiro, a 1983 alumnus.
“Not everyone is completely in love with the team, but a lot of people like me have watched this team from early in the season and like to see how they are coming together,” he said. “It’s been an exciting run.”
But several students steadfastly ignored the tournament.
“I personally was uninterested in the NIT,” said Ryan Holleran, who graduated in December. “It gets very little media coverage, which makes it impossible for any team to gain bragging rights from it.”
The 24-year-old noted that in 2006, then-coach Gary Williams nearly refused an NIT bid when he believed his 19-11 team was worthy of an NCAA berth.
“It’s kind of like being rejected by an Ivy League school for a more mediocre school,” Holleran said.
However, athletic department spokesman Zack Bolno said he’s not concerned about the fan base dropping off.
“We averaged over 13,000 fans per game this season, which is impressive considering the amount of games that took place in December and January over winter break,” Bolno said. “Our team has fed off of the energy at the Comcast Center this season, especially since this is a younger team. There is no doubt that it really helped in close games like [Virginia Tech, N.C. State and Duke].”
Representatives of several local restaurants told Bolno they would be broadcasting Tuesday’s match against Iowa and were expecting extra customers.
Even though it may not be as glamorous as the bigger tournament, the NIT garners attention from several fans who said they know what it can mean for the future.
“It’s obviously cooler to watch your team in the NCAA,” said freshman atmospheric and oceanic science major Ryan Latgis. “But for a rebuilding team, history has shown that past winners of the NIT have been successful in the following years. Since this team is so young, I’m just glad that they are getting some important postseason experience.”