Being a Penn State faithful, I'm more familiar with the NIT than I'd rather admit.
We've mastered the art of making it a triennial tradition having been there now seven times since 1990.
Schools like Penn State are as happy making the NIT as I am when it's teen week on Jeopardy—because we know it's something we can actually compete in.
I MIGHT be able to answer three questions (or should I say question three answers) on "real" jeopardy if I was the only one playing, but put me on there with 13-year-olds, and I'm guaranteed to get at least a dozen right.
Don't get me wrong, the satisfaction of all the combined clues that I do know on teen week pales in comparison to the rare occasion of actually knowing a question to the answer in "real" jeopardy.
But there's just something about knowing I always have a legitimate chance during the adolescent version of the real thing.
So it begs the question. Is it better to be a one and done in the NCAA Tournament or to be in "teen week" where you have a realistic shot of advancing deep?
Penn State is never going to win the Big Ten tournament.
Winning the Big Ten tournament is about as much a possibility as Joe Pa starting a true freshman at QB, so a successful season will always result in being one of those eight or nine schools mentioned at nausea as a bubble team.
Will they get off the bubble?
Will their bubble burst?
The problem is that being a bubble team almost always means you'll be lucky to even be a No. 12 seed.
At best you'll be facing one of the top 25 teams in the country to start the big dance and most likely be flying home before the weekend even begins.
So I ask again, would you rather be the 65th team invited to the madness, or play in something more your level?
Does winning one game in the NCAA Tourney mean more than advancing to Madison Square Garden in the NIT?
Would I rather rescue the princess in the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES where I know I can be the hero, or would I rather break out the WII and try my hand at Mario Galaxy, where my futile attempts will surely result in frustration and embarrassment over how unskilled I've actually become at video games over the years?
Which is more embarrassing?
Failing miserably in the "real" tournament, or winning the NCAA's version of teen week?
And what if you don't even win in that?
In any case, Penn State makes its bid to be crowned champions of the have-nots.
The last time they made it out of the first round of the NIT (2000) they lost by 21 to Notre Dame in the semi-finals. I mention this because tonight they again face Notre Dame in the semis.
I'm thinking if you're happy with making the NIT your crowning achievement as often as I made Super Mario Bros. my game of choice back in 1988, you have to rescue the princess at least once or you don't deserve to graduate to a WII.
How's this for motivation: How about the winner of the NIT is guaranteed at least the play-in round in next year's March Madness?
Then again, if winning back-to-back NCAA Championships didn't guarantee anything for Florida, why should winning the NIT?