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Beware The Snub
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 3/9/04

As you Hokie basketball fans sit and wonder what the chances are of VT making the NIT, I send out a word of caution: Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. That's my fancy way of saying, despite Virginia Tech's two NIT championships, the tournament has been unkind to the Hokies in the past, most notably 1994, when a very good 18-10 Tech team got snubbed.

One of the great resources at my disposal is a nearly complete collection of Hokie Huddlers -- that's the old name of hokiesports the newspaper to you youngsters -- that go all the way back to the first year of publication, 1984-85. (The Huddler printed one issue at the end of the 1983-84 academic year, but I'm not fortunate enough to have that issue.) My collection is missing a lot of issues in the 1994-95 and 1995-96 years, but other than that, every one is present. This is thanks to a TSL subscriber whose father passed away and left a complete collection of 1984-1994 Huddlers in his attic, and upon discovery the subscriber delivered the Huddlers to me, for which I am eternally grateful. When combined with my own collection, it represents nearly a complete run of Huddlers. They are a great historical reference.

(That reminds me, I need to go make that subscriber good for life. Hang on a second okay, done. Now, where were we?)

My collection of Huddlers includes what was without a doubt the hardest issue that Chris Colston and company ever had to produce: Volume 11, No. 26: March 18, 1994.

At the top of the cover of that issue is the title, "Big Hurt: Big East rejects Tech for all-sports membership." The Big East's snub of the Hokies for all-sports membership in March of 1994, an event now ten years in the past as of today, March 9th, still brings up bitter, stinging memories for all involved.

But the Big East wasn't the only entity to stomp on the Hokies that week; the NIT joined in, too, rejecting an 18-10 Tech basketball squad that was more than qualified for the tournament. At the time, though Tech fans could somewhat understand why the Big East had rejected the Hokies, there was no justifying why the NIT had.

The NIT was a 32-team tournament that year, meaning that along with the 64-team NCAA tourney, 96 teams were invited to postseason play. The Hokies were not invited to either tournament, and to this day, it is inexplicable that the NIT tabbed Tech.

Consider the following facts from my March 18, 1994 edition of the Huddler:

  • VT was 18-10 (7-7 in the Metro Conference) and finished strong, winning five of their last seven games. Tech suffered a six-game losing streak in Jan/Feb that dropped them from 13-2 to 13-8, but then they won four out of their last five regular-season games and advanced to the Metro Conference semifinals, beating VCU and losing to Louisville.
  • The Hokies finished fourth in the Metro (the nation's fourth-strongest league, according to RPI ratings), and did not get an NIT invitation. But Southern Mississippi, who finished 15-14 and was sixth in the seven-team league (with a 5-7 record), did. The Hokies finished slightly higher in the RPI than Southern Miss. (70 for VT vs. 73 for USM) and much higher in Jeff Sagarin's USA Today computer ratings (56 vs. 81).
  • Sagarin's rankings had VT ranked higher than 23 of the 32 NIT teams. The Hokies were the highest-rated team in Sagarin's rankings that had a winning record and did not advance to post-season play.
  • The Hokies were the first team in the nearly-20-year history of the Metro Conference to finish .500 in the league (7-7) with at least 17 wins and not advance to postseason play.

The next year, of course, it was the NCAA's turn to snub the Hokies. Tech was 20-10 but was passed over by the NCAA, and they wound up being the highest-RPI-rated team in the NIT field. You know the rest: VT won the 1995 NIT, 65-64 in overtime over Marquette, and finished the year 25-10.

That 1995 NIT win helped soothe over the memories of the 1994 snub, but within that 1994 snub is a lesson: the NIT is not a numbers-driven, RPI-ratings driven affair, like the NCAA Tournament. The NIT is run by a small group of northern universities that don't have to explain their choices under intense scrutiny, like the NCAA selection committee.

In 1994, the NIT was run by the athletic directors of St. John's (who had voted just days before not to let the Hokies enter the Big East), Fordham, Wagner, NYU, and Manhattan. On page 9 of the 3/18/94 issue of the Hokie Huddler, Bill Roth connected the dots:

"The NIT took care of its own. Manhattan got in, and its athletic director was on the committee. Southern Miss got in, and its head coach, M.K. Turk, was on the NIT's Board of Coaches. Duquesne got in, and head coach John Carroll is a former Seton Hall guy who worked for the Carlisimos. The list goes on."

Ten years later, the NIT is still run by those same five schools, and five representatives of those schools make the selections for the tournament. I have always felt that they're going to show a northern bias when given the chance, and I actually understand that. After all, the final two rounds are played at Madison Square Garden, and it doesn't look good on TV, nor does it make much money, to have empty seats at MSG when a New York-based team or a nearby team, like Manhattan, Siena, or Rutgers would fill more seats.

(So watch out for Rutgers to be invited instead of the Hokies.)

Sure a lot has happened since the 1994 snub. The NIT has expanded to 40 teams. VT has won the NIT for a second time -- 1973 was the other -- and has become more of a household name as a university, though not as a basketball team. The Hokies have been invited to the ACC, and I'm not sure that St. John's, for one, sees that as a bad thing. They're probably glad to see Tech go, plus they have bigger fish to fry right now, anyway.

Some think that Tech's exit from the Big East and entry into the ACC will be a sticking point for the NIT committee, which will perhaps feel the Big East's pain and retaliate against VT. I'm not so sure. Remember, one of the most-heard voices in the north is that of Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese, and Tranghese has been very gracious to Tech, has not spoken ill of them, and completely understands the Hokies' conference switch. It's BC and Miami he's mad at, not VT, so if called upon, I actually think Tranghese will speak well of the Hokies.

But the lesson of the 1994 snub is best remembered in the next few days, if you're getting excited about the Hokies possibly participating in the NIT. Because ten years ago, a team that deserved it at least as much as this year's team, arguably much more, didn't get to go.

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