After falling to the Kansas Jayhawks in the Quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament last Thursday, the Frogs landed in a precarious position on the NIT bubble. TCU had certainly passed the "eye test" and looked every bit like a team that could make a run through the NIT, however some of the Frogs' metrics didn't stand up. TCU's RPI was hovering in the low 120s, the Strength of Schedule was worse, and the Frogs' 1-14 record against the RPI top 50 was nothing to write home about.
On Sunday night, the NIT Selection Committee, comprised mostly of retired college basketball coaches, made the statement that numbers outweigh the play on the court, leaving TCU out of the field. Not long after the NIT announcement was made, TCU declined a bid to play in the College Basketball Invitational. Although the decision to decline came as a surprise to some, there are many indicators that it was the right call.
The most significant detriment imposed by the CBI is their steep participation fees. Financial data for the 2015 event has yet to be announced, but from 2012-2014, teams had to pay $35,000 to participate in the First Round, $50,000 in the Quarterfinals, and $75,000 in the best-of-three Championship Series. That would equate to a $310,000 price tag for winning the event, not even factoring in the cost of staffing, the use of facilities, and potential travel expenses. For a point of reference, the Purdue Exponent reported that the Boilermakers spent $104,699.27 in total to host two games in the 2013 CBI, falling at home to Santa Clara in the Quarterfinals.
The CBI is run by an organization called The Gazelle Group. On their website, the group defines itself as a sports and entertainment consulting firm, who is "committed to developing prioritized business plans that achieve its clients' marketing and financial goals." That should be a pretty indicting statement as to why the College Basketball Invitational even exists in the first place.
Additionally, the CBI has dealt with some pretty significant perception issues, especially as of late. The tournament went without a title sponsor from its inception in 2008 until 2010. In 2011, the CBI signed its first title sponsor - Zebra Pen, a Japanese-owned writing implement manufacturer. Zebra Pen sponsored the event for two seasons before Buick took over in 2013. Buick's sponsorship lasted just one season and the CBI has been without a single title sponsor since then.
The third-tier postseason tournament has also dealt with significant issues getting its content picked up by television networks. The CBI signed a deal with FOX College Sports in 2008, but FOX did not renew the contract after one season. The event bounced around between little-known HDNet and AXS-TV between 2009-2013 before CBS Sports Network picked up the rights to broadcast the Championship Series in 2014. No title sponsorship and no steady television coverage certainly do not bode well for the struggling CBI brand.
The lack of interest from sponsors and television networks has translated to a similar lack of interest from many large athletic departments. Since 2008, 128 teams have participated in the CBI, with just 17 of them coming from a power conference. Nine of those 17 teams had losing records. Three of the seven champions of the event have been from a power conference - 2009 Oregon State, 2011 Oregon, and 2012 Pittsburgh.
This season was abysmally bad for the CBI selection process. More than a dozen power conference programs declined invitations to play in the event, including California, Florida, Florida State, Indiana, Kansas State, Memphis, Minnesota, Northwestern, Oregon State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, TCU, and Tennessee. The most surprising element about this list is that it includes four past participants and two champions of the event. Two different teams - Oregon State and Pittsburgh - have won the entire tournament, and decided not to play in it again. That's a pretty strong indication that it isn't worth it. (Note: Pittsburgh made their intentions to decline a CBI bid clear before they were invited to participate in the NIT.)
In this Indy Star article, the Athletic Director at Indiana went on record as saying "We're Indiana. We don't play in the CBI." For a program like TCU that is slowly building its profile and brand within the college basketball landscape, an appearance in the CBI would likely have been a bit of a reputation hit. With so many power schools declining invitations, TCU followed suit and subtly implied that the program is beyond any "moral victories" that might come through playing in the event.
(It is an important admission to note that TCU participated in the 2012 CBI. The Frogs hosted Milwaukee before falling on the road at Oregon State. For a then-fledgling Mountain West program under Jim Christian, the decision to participate likely made more sense.)
What the CBI was left with this season is a field that includes one power conference team - Colorado, a less-than-stellar Pac-12 team that finished 15-17 overall - and 15 mid-major and small conference teams. Rider and Vermont are the only teams in the field that finished higher than fourth place in their respective conferences. The average RPI of the field is 148. The highest rated team in the RPI is Cal State at Santa Barbara. Four teams aren't even in the top 200 - Delaware State (203), Mercer (213), Seattle (288), and Vermont (204).
I don't want to bash on the teams that are participating. Every program and every athletic department are different, and clearly some teams see an upside in accepting their bids. After all, the CBI allows for extra practice time, the opportunity for young players to gain more experience in a postseason setting, and it gives small programs the chance to play for a championship.
It would have been great for the seniors on this team to have one last chance to compete in a TCU uniform. But for the program, the bad outweighs the good. The high costs and perception issues associated with the event far outweigh the prestige of being declared CBI Champions. And if Trent Johnson's comments about Kyan Anderson and Kenrich Williams dealing with injuries is correct, then the decision to decline makes even more sense. All factors considered, it basically would have boiled down to TCU paying for additional practice time and glorified scrimmages against mid-major opponents.
Hitting the recruiting trail and preparing for next season is a much smarter and more cost effective use of TCU's time and effort.