Terps Wonder if NIT Spot Is a Good Sign
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Maryland Coach Gary Williams had decided to decline an invitation to the National Invitation Tournament until he talked on the telephone with C.M. Newton, who told Williams that he possessed a signed agreement stipulating that Maryland would play in the NIT.
That conversation with the chair of the NIT selection committee just moments before the field was unveiled Sunday night prompted Williams to make a sudden about-face. And Maryland's season went from abruptly finished to still in progress.
"If you have a signed agreement," Williams said he told Newton, "we're there."
A few weeks ago, Maryland completed standard paperwork distributed by the NIT that inquired about the arena, schedule conflicts and the projected budget to host a game if the team did not make the NCAA tournament. Larry Leckonby, Maryland's chief financial officer, said yesterday that Troy Wainwright, the men's basketball team's director of operations, was privy to discussions about the paperwork.
Yesterday, Williams said Wainwright had a meeting with athletic department staff members regarding whether the Comcast Center would be available for possible NIT games, but added that the basketball office was not aware of a signed agreement. Williams said he could see how athletic department staff members may have assumed the men's basketball office knew about the signed agreement.
"I wasn't aware there was a paper in C.M. Newton's hands," Williams said yesterday. "Obviously if I were, there would not have been any choice; you just go play. . . . We could have done away with all that going back and forth if I would have known, but I did not. That paper was signed by the athletic department, not by me. I didn't think we were obligated to play in the NIT, but obviously we were."
At 8:55 p.m. Sunday, Williams said, he talked briefly to Athletic Director Debbie Yow, who told him to call Newton. Williams quickly called Newton, moments before the brackets were unveiled on television at 9 p.m. Newton told Williams about the agreement and said that it would look bad perception-wise if Maryland declined an invitation, particularly on such short notice.
Newton "felt strongly that the tournament would be a better tournament with the University of Maryland in it," said Leckonby, who also spoke to Newton on Sunday.
After Newton had persuaded Williams to accept, Williams returned to the media room to inform reporters. At that time, he said players were being informed that their season was not yet over.
On Saturday, Maryland will host the winner of the game between Manhattan and Fairleigh Dickinson. Should the Terps (19-12) win, they are expected to have two more home games in the NIT if they continue to advance.