By Doug Doughty
Of the five ACC men's basketball programs available for the College Basketball Invitational, only Virginia decided to take the plunge.
That decision ultimately could cost the Cavaliers more than $150,000.
"We knew that going in," executive associate athletic director Jon Oliver said. "We spent a lot of time talking about that aspect of it, but at the end of the day, it was not a financial decision.
"We wanted our kids to keep playing."
The CBI is sponsored by the Gazelle Group, a marketing firm known locally for its sponsorship of the ill-fated 2000 Black Coaches Association preseason game between Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. That game was suspended by lightning before the opening kickoff and never played.
The Gazelle Group formed the CBI this year as a postseason alternative for men's basketball teams that did not receive bids to the NCAA tournament.
The Cavaliers announced March 15 that they had agreed to play in the CBI but only if they did not receive an NIT bid.
Virginia also agreed tentatively to serve as a first-round CBI host, knowing that it would have to guarantee $60,000 in gate receipts.
"When you play in a tournament like that, you never know what's going to happen, because nobody knows what the tournament is about," Oliver said.
The University of Virginia and the Gazelle Group consulted on ticket prices, charging $10 for the public and $5 for students. Attendance for the first game was 4,022, which included 150 students, Oliver said.
The crowd was larger for a second-round U.Va. home game with Old Dominion, but the attendance of 6,460 wasn't half the capacity of 14,593-seat John Paul Jones Arena.
When Bradley knocked host U.Va. out of the CBI with a 96-85 win Wednesday night, a crowd of 5,852 watched.
Virginia's crowds were comparable to what the CBI was drawing in other venues. Tulsa, which faces Bradley in a best-of-three championship series, had 5,339 for its game Wednesday night with Houston.
Old Dominion, which hosted Rider in a first-round CBI game March 18, reported attendance of 2,036 at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Coach Blaine Taylor, when asked Thursday about the financial end of the CBI arrangement, declined to comment.
ODU officials also declined to talk about the school's deal to host its CBI game. The Virginian-Pilot requested a copy of the contract Thursday through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. ODU has five business days to respond to that request.
Virginia was able to offset some of its costs by holding on to revenues made from parking, concessions and sponsorship agreements, "but it takes between $45,000 and $50,000 to put on a game," Oliver said. "Then you're going to tack your guarantee on top of that."
Other schools decided the reward of playing wasn't worth the cost. Georgia Tech declined a CBI offer. Wake Forest's coaching staff wanted to play, Gazelle Group president Rick Giles said, but the administration said no.
Among the teams cited in various news reports as having turned down the CBI were Alabama, Penn State, Missouri and Seton Hall.
The only way for a school to cut its losses was to go on the road. The Gazelle Group handles travel expenses and even chartered planes when commercial flights were not available, Giles said.
For the CBI to have a future - and for teams such as Virginia to consider it a viable alternative - crowds will have to get bigger.
"The initial response from fans was, 'Oh, my gosh, we didn't make the NCAA,' " Giles said. "What we're about is rekindling a spark.
"It will be interesting to compare the NIT crowds in New York with our crowds at Tulsa and Bradley, because I think our atmosphere's going to be a lot better."
The Virginian-Pilot staff writer Rich Radford contributed to this report.