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ESPN Finally Gives UT A Start Time: Monday, 7pm Vs MTSU

It must not be easy running the NIT.

Since the NCAA took the 75-year-old tournament over just a few short seasons ago, the tourney has improved.  A great deal, in fact. 

In came a true bracket with actual seedings.  Out went the ol’ wait-til-the-first-round-is-over-and-then-match-two-teams-together-that-will-boost-attendance nonsense.

In came actual home court advantage for the higher-seeded teams (when possible).  All regular-season conference champs who lost their league tourneys would get automatic bids, too, cutting down on the number of .500 power-conference teams and ensuring some better basketball (though with slightly smaller schools).

But the NIT also inked a deal with the devil, er, I mean ESPN.  If you’ve read this site for long you know that we believe — like, oh, so many others — that ESPN embodies the greatest conflict of interest imaginable.  They own sports and yet they’re supposed to honestly cover sports at the same time.  And in owning the TV rights to the NIT’s games, they’re able to hold final sway over the how the tournament actually operates.  Might as well call it the ESPN Tournament (and don’t think that’s not coming).

Case in point: Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State won their first-round NIT games on Tuesday night.  All day Wednesday, they wondered if they would play on Thursday or Sunday… with one possibility being an 11am ET tip time.  Boy howdy, that would have done wonders for ticket sales in the Bible Belt.

By Wednesday afternoon, the NCAA had listed the game as a Friday matchup on its official website.  But behind the scenes, UT officials knew they didn’t have access to their own arena for Thursday or Friday.  (Another problem with the NIT, schools start scheduling events for their gyms as soon as the regular-season ends.)  So not until midnight this morning did Vol fans learn that their squad would host MTSU on Monday — which was never really discussed as a possibility — at 7pm.

ESPN wanted to wait until all of the first-round games were complete before slotting all of its second-round matchups.  OK.  But seeing as how the times were announced immediately at midnight, it sure looks like some game times could have been announced much sooner.  That would have at least allowed some schools schools and their fans to better plan for those second-round games.

As it turns out, the SEC got lucky because its game will air on ESPN (not 2 or the U) at 7pm.  That’s good exposure for the last remaining league team in the NIT field.  But it was a ridiculous wait to learn of that fact.

Oh, and that 11am Sunday slot?  Congrats to Drexel and Northern Iowa.


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