Away from the din of its flashier, younger counterpart, the original college basketball tournament tips off second-round play tonight. The National Invitation Tournament, now in its 75th year, features a pool of automatic qualifiers and at-large bids vying to cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden on March 29. ESPN will have exclusive coverage of the NIT throughout the tournament, rolling out all 31 games in HD across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, and ESPNU.
With 32 teams representing 18 conferences across 22 states, the NIT would be a massive logistical undertaking even without another tournament’s occurring simultaneously. The NIT field was announced three hours after the NCAA Basketball Championship Selection Show on Sunday night, with first-round tipoff scheduled for Tuesday night, giving ESPN less than 48 hours to put a production plan in motion.
“We have a great system,” says Joey Canipe, operations manager for ESPNU in Charlotte, N.C.. “The Charlotte; Bristol[, CT]; and West Virginia offices send out an inquiry to all of our mobile-unit vendors about two months in advance, saying, ‘Where are your mobile units? What is your availability for these windows? Where is your next show?’
“When we hear the selections on Sunday night, we can then consult our paperwork and say, ‘Wow, this vendor has a truck sitting in the same city,’” she continues. “So that helps us quickly determine how to deploy those assets.”
ESPN dispatched an HD mobile unit to each of the 16 first-round sites in 13 states. Although the second round is reduced to eight sites this weekend, another tournament enters the mix: the NCAA Women’s Tournament tips off on Saturday.
“It’s actually one of the most challenging weekends of the year for us,” says Canipe. “Just to give an example, our Bristol office has 16 trucks secured just for the Women’s Tournament. And then, Turner and CBS probably have at least eight for just their events. We also have NCAA wrestling [and] spring sports like baseball and softball. A lot is happening this particular weekend.”
ESPN has exclusive coverage of the 2012 National Invitation Tournament, carrying every game across ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU. In addition to five first-round games carried exclusively on ESPN3, the broadband network will simulcast every matchup throughout the tournament.
ESPN’s Charlotte and Bristol offices are teaming up to produce the first and second rounds of the tournament. Games carried on ESPNU feature five manned cameras; games carried on ESPN and ESPN2 add an extra manned camera to the broadcast. Selected games also feature an above-the-rim camera. First- and second-round feeds return to ESPNU in Charlotte, where the tournament is supported by a studio show.
“The most important part, from our perspective [in Charlotte], is working as a team [with] the Bristol and West Virginia offices, because we know that all those windows have to be covered, regardless of whether [the games] are on ESPN3, ESPN, or ESPNU,” says Canipe. “By taking a team approach, it’s really helped us to be able to get those assets to the correct places in a short time. We have about 38 hours from Sunday night to the first park-and-power time on Tuesday morning, so it becomes crucial to work as a team.”
Destination: New York City
On Tuesday March 20, the NIT will head to Madison Square Garden for the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals. ESPN’s Bristol office will take full control of the tournament, enhancing coverage with seven manned cameras, two above-the-rim and two below-the-rim robotic cameras, and a 2D high-speed, super-slow-motion camera at midcourt.
In addition to the 2D telecast on ESPN and ESPN2, the semifinals and finals will be shot using the 5D model and simulcast on ESPN3D.