The NCAA was built around automatic bids for conference champions & an additional number of at-large bids for independents. This situation existed for 35 years, but in the 1970s, the Eastern independents began to lobby for greater representation in the tournament. The only Eastern conferences at the time were the ACC, Ivy League, Yankee Conferece (New England state schools), & Middle Atlantic (mostly smaller PA schools: today's East Coast conference).
The Eastern independents were all members of a loose federation called the Eastern Collegite Athletic Conference (ECAC). I believe that the primary functions of this body was to provide referees, training, & meetings. They covered all 3 divisions of college sports in the East at the time & had hundreds of members. I'm not aware of any function they had in rules or scheduling, but there may have been something.
The lobbying efforts of the ECAC independents were successful. Four ECAC regions were established in 1974-75: New England , Metro New York/New Jersey, Upstate, & South. Each region held a 4-team tournament & the winner received an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The establishment of this format alone stimulated discussion & schools began to explore the idea of forming conferences rather than to be assigned to arbitrary regions which included huge state universities like Penn State with tiny privates like St. Francis (PA). It also placed schools with rich basketball traditions like St. John's in the same region with marginal Div. I programs like another St. Francis (NY). While the ECAC regions incorporated many longstanding & traditional rivalries, they also forced together schools that had little in common. The first new conference to emerge from these discussions was the Eastern Eight in 1976-77 (Penn State, Pitt, Duquesne, West Virginia, Villanova, George Washinton, Rutgers, UMass).
"Beware what you wish for; you may get it." The NCAA began to impose scheduling requirements in order for conferences to maintain an automatic bid. The requirement was that in order to qualify its representative, a conference must either scedule all member to play each other once during the regular season (single round robin) & then play a conference tournament OR have all members play each other twice during the regular season (double round robin) if there was no tournament. Ironically, now that almost everyone is in a conference, this rule no longer seems to applly because there are examples of conferences which do not meet these requirements.
The scheduling requrements accelerated the formation of conferences because schools wanted to have control of their own schedules through a choice of conference affiliation rather than be assignment to an ECAC region. As a result, the next development was the formation of the Big East in 1979-80.
After the formation of the Eastern Eight, a number of Virginia schools joined the ECAC & were assigned to the South region, which had originally been formed for the PA, MD, DC, WV area - then the southernost area of the ECAC. It became the home to these Virginia schools as well as the remaining DC & MD schools.
Fairly quickly after the Big East, the remaining regions formalized the arrangement that had been precipitated by their competition in ECAC regions & formed conferences for all sports largely based on these regions: Metro Atlantic (1982, 6 membes of the the old ECAC Metro NY/NJ), Colonial (1983, the old ECAC South), Northeast (1988, replaced ECAC Metro NY/NJ, which had continued until '88), North Atlantic (1989, replaced ECAC New England, which had become ECAC North Atlantic in 1982). Schools from the Upstate region, the smallest of the regions, had become absorbed by other regions or new conferences as the process of conference formation progressed. Since that time there has been the further emergence of new conferences like the Patriot League from these four basic groups and there has been realignment & the addition of new members as schools have been added to Div. I.
Interestingly enough, it may have been two developments west of the Mississippi in the '60s that led to the establishment of the ECAC regions. The conferences which were receiving automatic toufnament bids were either long established leagues or were more recently developed "power conferences" like the ACC (1953). No one questioned the legitimacy of these conference representatives. However, in 1963, two new conferences were formed, the Big Sky (Gonzaga, Idaho, Idaho State, Montana, Montana State, Weber State) and the Southland (Abilene Christian; Arkansas State; Lamar; Texas-Arlington; Trinity, TX). In 1971, the Mid Eastern Conference emerged in the ECAC's own back yard (Delaware State, Howard, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Morgan State, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, South Carolina State). No one could confuse the champions of any of these three leagues with any of the nation's power teams - independent or otherwise. As these conferences received automatic bids and better teams from among the independents were excluded, the Eastern schools decided that they didn't want their fate subject to the whims of a selection committee & used their ECAC emberships to say that they too were members of a conference & deserved automatic bids like anyone else.
To show that none of today's turmoil is anything new, the conference development of the '60s was partly precipitated by shake-ups in more traditional conferences. In 1959, the long established Pacific Coast Conference, predecessor to today's Pac Ten, fell apart. A core group, the Big Five, held together & continued (Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington). Eventually Oregon, Oregon State, & Washington State were brought back into the fold in 1963, but Idaho, a member since 1922, was excluded. They were left to find a new home & became a founding member of the Big Sky.
Around the same time (1962), the Border Conference (Arizona, Arizona State, Hardin-Simmons, New Mexico State, UTEP, West Texas) fell apart after 30 years, precipitated by the defection of Arizona (1961) & following defections by New Mexico (1951) & Texas Tech (1956) earlier in the '50s. Formation of the WAC in 1962 was a direct outgrowth of this. It also led to the demise of the old Mountain States Conference which fed both the WAC & the Big Sky & had in earlier days lost Colorado to the Big Eight.
Regarding, the NIT, you could always get a good argument back in the '40s & '50s about which was the better tournament & which champion was the nation's best team. When the NIT was formed, there were no polls & no TV. New York was the media capitol & the biggest population center. It was natural, then, that this tournament would be college basketball's showcase event, which it certainly was at least through the '40s & perhaps through some years in the '50s. This was recognized by the NCAA which scheduled its tournament after the NIT to avoid onflicting with it. Several factors contributed both to the decline of the NIT and to its persistence:
1. The Helms Foundation selected the first two NIT champions, Temple (1938) & LIU (1939) as the best team in the nation. In 1940, they selected USC despite the fact that they had been upset in the NCAA tournament. After that, they selected the NCAA champion every year except 1944 (Army, which didn't play in either tournament) & 1954 (Kentucky which was ineligible). That didn't help the status of the NIT.
2. During World War II, a charity game (1943-45) was set up to raise funds for the Red Cross, matching the NCAA & NIT champions. The NCAA champion won all three years. In those days, teams could play in both tournaments & some did. In 1944, Utah was eliminated from the NIT, which was won by St. John's, but went on to win the NCAA tournament & defeat St. John's in the Red Cross game. To add to the confusion, in an appeal to patriotism perhaps, the Helms foundation named Army as the nation's best team. St. John's could make the argument that the Red Cross game was just an exhibition game & that they were the champions in tournament play, but 3 straight losses didn't help the prestige of the NIT.
3. In those days, NCAA & NIT champions were invited as a team to the Olympic trials. The performances of Kentucky (1948) & Kansas (1952) showed their superiority to NIT champions, St. Louis (1948) & LaSalle (1952).
4. Polls began in 1949. No NIT champion was ranked #1 in the polls.
5. Unranked City College of New York won the NIT in 1950, upsetting #1 Bradley in the finals. CCNY was a typical NIT-type team while Bradley, Missouri Valley Conference champs was a typical NCAA-type team. Both teams went on to the NCAA tournament the following week & CCNY won again. This was a validation of the NIT champ.
6. Following CCNY's unique dual championships, the NCAA expanded from 8 to 16 teams the following year, giving them a higher profile, more in keeping with the larger NIT.
7. Schools were able to play in both tournaments up through 1952. After that, the NCAA refused to take teams that played in the NIT. This did occasionally allow for some interesting comparisons in addition to the St. John's-Utah comparison of 1944. Colorado (1940 NIT champ) lost in the NCAA quarter finals the following week. LaSalle won the 1952 NIT tournament, from which NCAA runner-up St. John's had been eliminated. Today, we are used to seeing such reversals after conference tournaments. We point to issues like fatigue & travel NIT winners played & traveled one week & then met teams in the NCAA torunament the following week, who had the week off to stay home & practice.
7. With teams no longer able to play in both tournaments, Seton Hall (31-2 & #2 in both polls) chose to stay close to home in 1953 & play in the NIT. As the Big Ten champ, Indiana (23-3 & #1 in both polls) was committed to the NCAA tournament. The two schools won their respective tournaments. Suffice it to say, that the failure of the top two teams to meet or even play in the same tournament, left college basketball with a split championship - at least as far as anything that could be determined on the court was concerned.
8. 1954 was a strange year. Kentucky knew that they had an ineligible player before the season started, but chose to use him any way. They had a great team, were picked as the nation's best team by the Helms Foundation, & were ranked #1 in one poll & #2 in the other. However, today we would not consider them national champs any more than we did LaSalle's great 25-1 team in 1969, which was also banned from the tournament for using an ineligible player. Indiana was ranked #1 by UPI but lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. LaSalle (#11 UPI) went on to win the NCAA tournament & was ranked #2 by AP. Holy Cross (#9 UPI) upset Duquesne (#3 UPI) to win the NIT & was ranked #3 by AP. The edge that year went to Holy Cross, not only because of their slightly higher consensus ranking, but because LaSalle lost twice that year in the regular season by a total of 27 points to Niagara (UPI #17), who finished third in the NIT behind both Holy Cross & Bradley. However, in terms of what could be determined on the court, it was another year of a split championship.
9. 1954 was the last year in which the NIT champion could be considered better than or equal to the NCAA champions. After 1954, at least the top two teams in the polls were always in the NCAA tournament.
10. Because only one team from each conference could go to the NCAA, this left other top teams available in some cases to the NIT. 1960 was a classic example when #4 Bradley was excluded from the NCAA tournament becasue they lost to #1 Cincinnati in the Missouri Valey Conference. Bradley won the NIT & was certainly a Final Four caliber team that year.
11. There was a quirk which kept the NIT as a prestigious tournament at least through 1965. The NCAA tournament prior to 1976 was not really one tournament; it was four regional tournaments whose champions met in the Final four. This is a significant issue. Teams were automatically assigned to a region. If the best 4 teams in the country were all in the same region, then they would all be assigned to that region & they would all compete in that region. As a result, there were years when the NIT champions was better than one or more regional champions & had a Top Ten ranking to prove it. 1965 was a pefect example. Both Princeton, Eastern regional champion, & Wichita State, Midwest regional champion, were not ranked in the Top Ten. However, NIT runner-up Villanova, was ranked #8. The East was unusually strong that year, including both #3 St. Joe's & #4 Providence, leaving Villanova & tournament champion St. John's for the NIT. At least Princeton could claim some big upsets to estblish its legitimacy in the Final Four. However, this was not the case for Wichita State because there were no Top Ten teams from the football-oriented Midwest in that region. The NIT champ was simply better than at least one member of the Final Four that year. This was probably the last year that this claim could be made, but it certainly wasn't the only year after 1954 that the NIT champ was as good as or better than at least one Final Four team. Duquesne (#6, 1955), Louisville (#6, 1956), St. John;s (#17, 1959), & Providence (#13, 1963) were others that were better than lower ranked or unranked Final four teams in addition to the 1960 Bradley & 1965 St. John's teams. After 1965, the NCAA tournament consistently had the top teams.
12. When the NCAA tournament began taking conference runners-up in 1976, the NIT was completely marginalized.
I hope this helps. I'm sorry that I didn't see your post until today.
Last edited by friarfan on Sun Jul 30, 2006 6:22 am, edited 1 time in total.