Area hoops teams have been getting set to tip off the 2022-23 college basketball season – most of them around the beginning of November – for quite some time. Summer quickly turns into fall and before you know it, basketball season is upon us.

But there’s one Colorado company that’s been prepping for the start of the season for as long or longer than any single team. For Triple Crown Sports in Fort Collins the beginning of the hoops season every year is a culmination of a lot of hard work and rich tradition.

Most college basketball fans are familiar with the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) – both “preseason” and “postseason” – as well as Men’s and Women’s Cancun Challenge, a preseason invitational that tips things off south of the border style. But what most fans might not realize – even in Colorado – is that Triple Crown Sports is the entity behind these tournaments.

If athletes or parents of athletes know the name “Triple Crown”, it’s highly likely that they’ve either played in or watched one of their many softball or volleyball tournaments. After all, Triple Crown is about to turn 40 and is a well-oiled machine when it comes to putting on all sorts of highly competitive tournaments for youth and adult athletes across the country since 1982. That in and of itself is an impressive resume and reputation.

But Triple Crown decided long ago to devote itself to the development of women’s sports, and in 1994, made the decision it was time to invest in women’s college basketball with the debut of the Preseason WNIT. The first tournament involved three former NCAA Final Four participants – Missouri State, Texas Tech and Vanderbilt – along with the University of Washington which defeated Texas Tech, the 1993 NCAA National Champions, for the championship. From there, Triple Crown’s involvement in college basketball only grew.

In 1995 the University of Colorado defeated Arkansas in the championship game in front of more than 7,000 spectators. In 1998 Colorado State, on its way to a 31-4 season, had to defeat three national powers in succession – Oregon, Rutgers and Florida – to win the event. And while Colorado and Colorado State have both had representation, the tournament plays host to some of the very best teams in the country annually. In essence, it’s an invite any Division I Women’s Basketball program wants to receive.

This year’s field will include Colorado, Jackson State, Louisiana and Texas Tech. The Buffs will kick things off against Jackson State on Nov. 12.

“Triple Crown Sports is a longtime and proud supporter of the women’s game, and we are determined to keep the Preseason WNIT on everyone’s radar even as scheduling the tournament has been a challenge in recent years,” said Jared Rudiger, executive director of the WNIT. “We’re excited to see these four teams in action and to add to our history of helping teams sharpen their rosters through great competition ahead of conference play.”

But the Preseason WNIT wasn’t where Triple Crown Sports stopped. In 1998, the Postseason WNIT was added. The first tournament involved 16 teams from around the country, but in 1999 expanded to involve 32 schools. Arkansas and Wisconsin drew a WNIT record 14,161 women’s basketball fans for the championship matchup at Arkansas that year. Today the Postseason WNIT is the longest current running postseason event for women’s college basketball, in addition to the NCAA Tournament. The WNIT is committed to all established conferences. It is the only men’s or women’s postseason tournament – other than the NCAA – to offer an automatic berth to each of the 32 established conferences. Perhaps most impressively, the championship game is televised live to a national audience every year, because the WNIT under Triple Crown’s guidance is financially committed to promoting women’s basketball.

With the success of the WNIT – games are often played in front of record crowds – Triple Crown added yet another women’s preseason tournament, the Cancun Challenge. It was so well received, a men’s tournament was added in 2008.

Since its inception in 2005, the Women’s Cancun Challenge has hosted 100-plus D-I teams from 26 conferences, while playing over 175 games in Mexico.

The men’s tournament has hosted 80-plus Division I teams from 28 conferences, while playing over 100 games in Mexico. The tournament has seen plenty of top-notch through the years with NBA players such as John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Kenneth Faried just to name a few. Seven of the players on Kentucky’s 2009 Riviera Champion team went on to get drafted in the NBA, five of whom were taken in the first round in 2010, setting a record for an NCAA program.

The Cancun Challenge is one of the premier men’s and women’s basketball events held each year. It was rated a top-five preseason tournament by Sports Illustrated. Teams stay and play at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, where the resort’s convention center ballroom is converted into an arena, providing fans a special close-up view of the games. This year’s men’s tournament will tip off on Nov. 15, while women’s play begins on the 24th.

As Triple Crown Sports turns 40, its footprint on men’s and women’s college basketball isn’t too far behind. Since 1994, the Colorado company’s commitment to Dr. Naismith’s game has been unmistakable.