Sports column: Anybody fill out their CBI bracket?
Published 4:00 am Saturday, March 18, 2023
Most college basketball fans are focused this weekend on the NCAA Tournament, and rightly so.
Filling out a bracket is a yearly ritual. Winning an office pool is something we brag about for years, almost in the same way parents brag about their children’s accomplishments. Upsets thrill us, yet another championship by Duke or Kentucky bores us.
Commercials that run on an endless loop for four days bring us pop culture moments to talk about. Jack Link’s Peeing Sasquatch is sure to rocket past Lily From AT&T in the commercial spokesperson power rankings this weekend.
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In Mississippi, there was even plenty of reason to take a glance at the second-tier NIT (National Invitational Tournament) since Southern Miss and Alcorn State made cameo appearances this year.
What’s really catching my eye, however, is a tournament I probably won’t watch a minute of — the College Basketball Invitational, or CBI. Just the fact that this thing exists, and has existed for 15 years, is fascinating.
“CBI” sounds like either a shadowy government organization or the next bizarre banking term that’s about to blow up our economy. In reality it is the postseason equivalent of a dollar store, and not one of the fancy ones.
If you didn’t do well enough to make the 68-team NCAA Tournament … or the 32-team NIT … then you might still have a shot to earn the right to say “We’re Number One(-oh-one)!” by winning the CBI.
That is, of course, provided you pay the $27,500 entry fee to participate.
To give you an idea of what kind of school would agree to that deal, 10 of the 16 teams in the CBI have a direction or a city in their names. Two others are named after a food (Rice) and a hat (Stetson). Those seem like neat fun facts you probably won’t find in the CBI press notes.
Reaching the NCAA Tournament is the baseline goal for every team. Playing in the NIT isn’t as great, but it has some legacy prestige and can serve a purpose. Playing in the CBI feels like getting an invitation to an underground pit fighting competition in a seedy bar basement in Hong Kong.
All of the games are played in Daytona Beach, Florida. Even if you want to watch them, it’s very difficult. The first two rounds are streamed only on FloHoops.com, which seems like a fine website that airs a number of games but isn’t exactly on most people’s radar. The semifinals and finals get a bump up to ESPN2.
The CBI switched from on-campus sites to a single location following the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past two years, none of the 22 games in Daytona Beach has had a listed attendance larger than 800.
Last year’s championship game, in which UNC Wilmington beat Middle Tennessee 96-90, was witnessed by 624 people with nothing better to do in Daytona Beach during spring break.
If you win a postseason tournament and no one sees you lift the trophy, did you really win it at all?
The CBI seems about as pointless as it gets, and yet it’s also one of the things that makes sports awesome precisely because it’s pointless. It’s strange and it’s goofy, which makes it kind of fun. And after 15 years it seems like it has a weird niche in the college basketball landscape, which is a bit fascinating.
Even so, I’m not sure anybody is ready to get a CBI office pool going. Seems like they’d rather watch a Sasquatch pee than give the CBI a few moments of their time.
Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org