Despite cost, Pitt happy to host CBI

| Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Pitt athletic department could shell out as much as $310,000 to participate in the College Basketball Invitational.

But, depending on attendance, Pitt also could have a financial windfall from the event.

"Teams have made money off of this," said Ray Cella, a spokesman for the Princeton, N.J.-based Gazelle Group, which runs the CBI. "Depending on what they draw, they are going to make money. It's a misnomer to say it's a pay for play. It's not buying your way in."

Pitt (17-16), shut out from the NCAA Tournament and the National Invitational Tournament after a 13th-place finish in the Big East, is looking at the possible six-figure outlay — depending on how many games it hosts — after accepting a berth to the 16-team CBI.

"I'm not going to pretend this was our goal," coach Jamie Dixon said. "But this is where we are."

Pitt will host Wofford (19-13) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Petersen Events Center in a game that will cost the athletic department $35,000, minus gate and concession receipts.

The CBI has a minimum ticket guarantee, the amount a school pays to host a game: The guarantees are $35,000 for first-round games, $50,000 for the quarterfinals and $75,000 per game for the semifinals and the best-of-three finals.

That means Pitt could spend nearly one-third of $1 million if it hosted three games through the semifinals, and two games in the finals. But anything over those costs, and Pitt will make a profit. Tickets are $20 apiece.

"The phones have been busy," athletic director Steve Pederson said. "We feel pretty good about being able to cover the cost of hosting the tournament here."

Unlike the NIT, the NCAA does not own and run the CBI, but allows its members to participate in the postseason tournament.

Pederson said Pitt plans to host as many games as possible. With a win over Wofford, the Panthers would host the Princeton-Evansville survivor Monday in the quarterfinals. The final four teams are then reseeded with the higher seeds hosting the semifinals.

"As long as we keep winning, we will keep hosting the games," Pederson said.

Attendance to the fifth-year CBI rises dramatically as the field shrinks.

The eight first-round games last year drew an average of 2,414 fans. The four quarterfinal games averaged 5,016 fans.

The semifinals averaged 6,275. The best-of-three finals between eventual champion Oregon and Creighton drew an average of 9,864 fans, including a CBI-record 12,381 when Creighton hosted the Ducks in Omaha, Neb.

Rhode Island drew only 1,115 fans for its 76-59 victory over visiting Miami (Ohio) last year, the second-smallest crowd of the eight first-round games in '11. But Greg Burke, URI's deputy director of athletics, said it was a positive event, even if the school lost money.

"We looked at it as a benefit to the basketball program," Burke said. "We were satisfied with the experience. We were happy to be playing in the tournament."

With half of Pitt's roster being freshmen or redshirt freshmen, Pederson said the Panthers planned all along to accept a CBI bid if they didn't get into the NIT.

"It was an easy decision and one that we made some time ago," he said. "This was the right thing to do."

Additional Information:

Better over time

A look at how attendance rose for each round of the College Basketball Invitational last year:

First round: 2,414 average attendance

Quarterfinals: 5,016

Semifinals: 6,275

Best-of-three finals: 9,864

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