It officially took 3 days and a smashing of Delaware State to recover from my shame. Ever since WVU finished 4-4 down the stretch, I suspected we would be left out of the big dance, so none of this came as a big surprised. But why did it hurt so bad? A few short years ago, we were grateful for an NIT birth, simply because there would be more opportunities to see our Mountaineers. Then, of course, things changed: Back-to-back sweet 16 appearances in 2005 and 2006. So yeah, this is a bit of a let down. But was it always so?
The NIT began in 1938, one year prior to the NCAA Invitational Tournament. That year, the NIT field was filled with modern day powerhouses (record entering tournament): Bradley (18-1), Colorado (14-5), Long Island (23-3), NYU (15-6), Oklahoma A&M (24-2) and Temple (20-2). Temple went on to win in a knee-biter over future Supreme Court Justine Byron White and his Buffs 60-36. I think that was the first year the Owls were coached by John Chaney. But then again, coaches weren't allowed to talk to their players during games in 1938, so its pretty much irrelevant. The low score by the Buffs was attributed to two reasons: 1) the all night stripper rape the night before and 2) the fact the circumference of the ball was changed to 30 inches from the very specific "eh, anywhere between 29 1/2 and 30 1/4 inches is cool with us" rule.
Even though the NCAA began the "Big Dance" the following year, the NIT paralleled inner city elementary schools by continuing a separate but equal existence well into the 60s. Interestingly, a few of the exceptional teams actually played in both tournaments, i.e. CCNY and Kentucky. During that time period, WVU's first appearance came in 1942 where the Mountaineers went on to win the tournament upending Western Kentucky 47-45. During the next 3 years, '43-'46, the winners of the two tournaments met in a unofficial game in Madison Square Gardens to benefit the Red Cross, which by that time was busy patching holes in the Greatest Generation. The NCAA winner won all 3 games (Wyoming, Utah and Oklahoma A&M, respectively).
West Virginia also participated in the NIT, while it was still relevant, in 1945 (lost first round to DePaul), 1946 (lost semi-final to Kentucky) and 1947 (lost in a semi-final nail biter to Utah). No appearances in the NIT during its relevancy by Pitt, Virginia Tech or Maryland. Pitt first showed up in college basketball postseason play in 1941 when it lost in the NCAA East Finals to Wisconsin 36-30. During the same time period (between 1938 and 1960), WVU also appeared in the NCAA tournament 6 times (1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959 when we finished runner-up and 1960) while Pitt showed up thrice (1941, 1957 and 1958). [All facts from Wikipedia and Infoplease.]
Eventually, money, corruption and ESPN came along. Increased field size and expanded television coverage began pushing the NCAA tournament to the forefront. Rumors exist that the NCAA also bullied invited teams into foregoing the NIT in favor of the NCAA Tournament. In 1974, a third national tournament, the Collegiate Commissioner's Association Tournament came along further diluting the NIT field. The CCAT, though, was as well conceived as the XFL, and died in just 2 years. Unfortunately, the damage had been done and the NIT has now been relegated to the tournament for 66th place.
But hell, at least we get to see our Mountaineers play a few more games, Alexander might find some shooting rythm, Patrick Beilein and Mike Gansy can film some more Lotto commercials and we can go on reporting on the basketball team. Afterall, we're facing the Sahara with a single Blue and Gold oasis between here and September 1st.