Pay to play? tourney worth the cost for UNCA, Campbell

For the Bulldogs, Camels and midmajor programs like them, the benefits of playing in the second-tier postseason event cant always be measured by the numbers on the bottom line of a spread sheet photo— photo
Big South rivals UNC Asheville and Campbell are among the 26 teams playing in the tournament this week

The Tournament doesn’t have a flashy selection show, a bracket challenge people can’t wait to enter or even a network television contract. In fact, most fans don’t even know or care that it exists. But for successful mid-major college basketball programs shut out of the higher-profile NCAA tournament or NIT, the second-tier event offers a postseason opportunity that’s worth a million bucks. Even though it costs participating teams to buy their way into the field. Two state schools, Big South rivals UNC Asheville and Campbell, have decided to take the plunge and pay to play in this year’s event. It’s a decision that might not make financial sense. But according to athletic officials at both schools, the benefits of playing in the CIT can’t always be measured by the numbers on the bottom line of a spread sheet. “There’s a cost involved,” Campbell athletic director Bob Roller. “You’re not going to get rich off this, that’s not the purpose. For that matter, neither is the NIT. Teams go to football bowl games and lose $600,000, but they still say it’s worth it. So yes, for us playing in the CBI is worth it.” Roller declined comment on how much his school had to pay to host Tuesday’s opening round game against Houston Baptist, which the Camels won 98-79 behind 39 points from Chris Clemons. His counterpart at UNC Asheville, Janet Cone, said that the going rate for a CIT home game is $38,500. Road games, such as the one Cone’s Bulldogs are playing at Tennessee-Martin on Thursday, cost slightly less. Additional costs are incurred with each round a team advances in the 26-team event. A portion of that money goes to paying for travel expenses, officials and other logistics involved with staging the tournament. Home teams are able to recoup at least part of their investment by keeping 100 percent of ticket sales, concessions and souvenir sales. The Big South has also contributed to help offset the cost to both UNCA and Campbell. Cone said she was impressed by the professionalism and organization shown by members of the CIT staff in the days leading up to her team’s invitation. She said the disappointment of getting passed over by the NIT quickly disappeared moments later when she got the call from selection committee chairman Jamie Kachmarik offering the Bulldogs a spot in the CIT field. “I’ve gotten some good references about the tournament and thus far, my dealings with them have been all positive,” Cone said. “It’s a good concept. Their selection committee is made up of some really respected people. “Another thing I value about the CollegeInsider tournament is that it’s mid-majors. I’m looking at the field that’s playing in it and I’m like, wow, those are going to be some really good games. It’s a good tournament and a good opportunity for us.” UNCA had hoped to get back to the NCAA tournament this year after going 23-9 and winning a share of the Big South regular season title. But those hopes were dashed by a first-round upset at the hands of Campbell in the conference tournament. The disappointment of that loss got only deeper when the NIT passed over the Bulldogs, which is why Cone she felt she owed it to coach Nick McDevitt and his players to provide another chance at finishing the season on a high note. No matter what the cost. “We’ve got a wonderful coaching staff and what I think are some really wonderful student-athletes who are leaders not just on the basketball coach,” Cone said. “We felt like we had a season of quality work and I didn’t want the season to be over for our team, especially for the seniors. “When you start out as a freshman you think you’ve got all these years ahead of you and all of a sudden, you’re standing there on Senior Day and you can’t believe its over. You wish you had more games. Now those seniors have at least one more game.” While UNCA is looking at the CIT as a way of extending the current season, Campbell’s motivation for playing in the tournament has more to do with the future. Featuring a lineup consisting of five underclassmen, including high-scoring sophomore Clemons, the Camels (18-17) struggled through an inconsistent regular season before finally starting to click over the past few weeks. They won their final two regular season games to qualify for the Big South tournament, then added three more victories there before losing the championship game and the conference’s automatic NCAA tournament bid to Winthrop. Because Campbell hasn’t played in the postseason since its one and