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Bona's NIT Decline Raises Questions from Fans


Fans of the St. Bonaventure Bonnies have been embroiled in uncertainty after an ESPN broadcast Tuesday revealed the team declined an invitation to the NIT. According to a source, Head Coach Mark Schmidt and Athletics Director Joe Manhertz made the decision not to participate, telling the NCAA on Sunday night the team was too injured to compete. But the decision surprised both players and athletics staff members, many of whom found out when the news broke Tuesday night.


ESPN’s graphic sparked immediate speculation and criticism, as fans assumed St. Bonaventure was not chosen for the tournament. The lack of explanation caused theories ranging from players “quitting on the season”, to WGR speculating the cost wasn’t worth it, to administrative oversight. Rumors continued to circulate Wednesday morning due to the absence of a formal announcement.


The revelation that at least some players, including team captain Daryl Banks, learned of the decision during a Xavier-Georgia NIT game only added to the confusion. Theories that ESPN simply made an error on the graphic were swiftly dismissed, leaving many questioning the communication breakdown. In a statement to the Buffalo News, the NCAA relayed that “St. Bonaventure indicated it should not be considered for NIT.”


If SBU couldn’t field a team, why was it not communicated simply and clearly? This was done by other programs like Oklahoma and St. John's. A delayed response from athletics has compounded the issue, as a 6th Man Club Zoom meeting that was reportedly scheduled for 11:30 AM Wednesday to potentially provide clarity caused more questions: why are only donors of a certain level provided answers, but not the rest of a fan base that has provided unwavering support over the decades? Reactions on social media manifested a frustrated Bona faithful, who questioned accountability and blamed players for quitting. The misplaced and unfair conjecture could have and should have been avoided by a statement.


In the absence of clear communication, or only communicating to those who spend enough money, speculation sets back the reputation of a program with a rich NIT history. SBU won an NIT championship in 1977 and played in the NIT Final Four in Madison Square Garden two years ago, both accomplishments rightfully celebrated by the program and school. Schmidt has stated that “a third of the SBU alumni population showed up” to support the Bonnies in the NIT at MSG. In a way, to decline an invite two years later with no explanation gives an aura to those same fans and alums that it never mattered as much as they thought. It undermines confidence in decision makers and underscores the importance of transparency and integrity to a loyal and giving fan base.


According to the Olean Times Herald’s Sam Wilson after Saturday’s A10 semifinals loss to Duquesne, Schmidt stated the Bonnies “would happily” play in the NIT. If it’s true that a select few made the call to decline an invite (after realizing there weren’t enough players available), and didn’t say anything, it leads people to believe the decision was “caught” on ESPN, and wouldn't have been realized otherwise. If not for their list of teams, how long would fans have continued to think teams like Saint Joseph’s were selected over the Bonnies? If not for loud public outcry, how long would fans have continued to blame the players for a decision they reportedly had little-to-no agency in? Players should not be blamed for decisions made at the highest levels of administration, and would not have been had the decision been clearly communicated from the jump.


A spokesperson for the NCAA stated, "St. Bonaventure was one of a few teams that notified the NIT committee before the tournament field was selected or announced that it was going to opt out of participating in the event.


In that sense, “declined an invitation” is probably not the correct wording because invitations are not extended to individual teams before the selection of the field is announced."

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