Scalzo: CIT is no joke for YSU

Quiz time.

The tournament is:

A. A postseason college basketball tournament built around mid-majors and televised by the CBS Sports Network.

B. “A participation trophy” event designed to bilk teams out of $35,000 so they can host games that nobody cares about.

C. Never heard of it.

The correct answer is A, but if you said C, I can live with that.

If you said B? Well, feel free to skip this column. You’re probably too good for it anyway.

The Youngstown State men’s basketball team will host Oakland in the first round of the CIT tonight. It’s the first postseason tournament for the Penguins since 1977, when they were in Division II.

It’s not the NCAA tournament. It’s not even the NIT. I know that. You know that. YSU coach Jerry Slocum knows that.

But for a program that is just two years removed from back-to-back 2-16 Horizon League seasons, it’s a good thing.

“I am excited and proud of where we’ve come from,” said Slocum, who in his eighth year led YSU to its first back-to-back winning seasons since 1985. “[But] I want to make a comment clearly that it’s not where our aspirations are to be. Our aspirations are clearly to win the Horizon League and be in the NCAA tournament. But in the same breath, for the first time in Youngstown State’s history as a Division I program [it’s] in a postseason tournament. I’m happy for our university and our program.”

There are 347 Division I basketball teams. Of those, 68 made the NCAA tournament (counting the play-in games). Another 64 are in the NIT. Add another 48 from the CIT (32 teams) and the College Basketball Invitational (16) and that means 52 percent of Division I teams are in a tournament.

That’s lower than in FBS football, where 70 of the 125 teams (56 percent) play in a bowl game.

In football terms, the CIT is closer to the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl than the Rose Bowl, but it’s a big deal for YSU, which has spent the last 12 years trying to be the Tampa Bay Rays of the Horizon League while ending up more like the Pirates.

I’ve written a lot about money but it bears repeating: Only one Horizon League school spends less on women’s basketball than YSU does on men’s basketball. The Penguins’ men’s basketball budget is less than half of Cleveland State or Detroit.

There’s a reason for this. Only one other Horizon school, Valparaiso, plays football and the Crusaders don’t offer scholarships. (Also, they stink.) So, YSU spends last-place money on a middle-of-the-pack team. Not a bad return on its investment.

YSU is, and always will be, a football school. But saying you’re a fan of Penguin football, but not Penguin basketball, is like saying you like steak, not hamburger.

You can like both.

YSU ponied up $35,000 to host tonight’s game, showing it’s willing to support the program with its wallet. For $7 a ticket, fans can do the same.

But some fans will prefer to stay home and make fun of YSU’s participation trophy. I just hope they enjoy their non-participation one.

Joe Scalzo covers YSU for The Vindicator. Write to him at and follow him on Twitter @JoeScalzo1.

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