Thoughts on the creation of an Ivy conference tournament: Yea or nay?

It was reported by CBS Sports last week that the Ivy League is close to creating an annual conference tournament that would be in place for the 2016-17 season, which is obviously big news since the Ivy League is the only Division I conference that still doesn’t have a conference tournament. Ivy presidents finally seem poised to go along with coaches’ wishes in setting up such a tournament, as it’s been reported that TV exposure is a motivating factor in securing a league tourney.

Eight of IHO’s writers weighed in on whether they support the creation of an annual conference tournament, and if so, where and when should it be held on a yearly basis, and how many teams should participate. Their in-depth responses after the jump:

THE OPPOSITION:

TOOTHLESS TIGER

I have opposed the idea every time it comes up for discussion, which seems to be annually now. The reporting suggests it may be approved this year, although the format under consideration has not been disclosed. For a one-bid conference, the body of work compiled over the 14-game season ought to determine the champion, in fairness to the players. Basketball is not a “revenue” sport in the Ivy League, nor should it be. Attendance is not strong across the League, nor is it likely that significant numbers of fans will travel to Boston, for instance, to watch Penn play Dartmouth or Princeton play Cornell, to use those matchups for illustration purposes. Devaluing the regular season certainly will not help attendance for those games. The fact that “everybody else does it” is hardly a worthwhile rationale for our League. The plethora of bowl games and postseason basketball tournaments creates more yawns than drama. If there is a persuasive argument out there I am more than willing to consider it; I just haven’t heard it yet.

ROBERT CRAWFORD

I do not think the Ivy League should have a conference tournament. In the current format, every regular season game is extremely important. This makes Ivy League basketball one of the greatest spectacles in college sports, since a mid-January Ivy League matchup matters just as much as a Big East conference tournament game. One of the greatest things about the Ivy League is that every team gets 14 playoff games, more than any other league. This shouldn’t change. It is unique and awesome.

One of the main criticisms of the tournament format is that it doesn’t do as good a job of selecting the league’s best team as the current format does. I think this argument is less convincing because the chances of the best team not winning the league in the current format are only slightly lower than the chances of the best team not winning the league in the tournament format. Also, any team that knocks off one or more of the league’s elite in the conference tournament may just deserve to go to the Big Dance.

If there’s going to be an Ivy League Tournament, I propose a three-team format with the best regular season team getting a berth in the finals in its home arena. The semifinals would be played at that arena as well. This way, the regular season would be ultra-important; the race for third would be heated and would involve legitimately good teams. The race for first would also be intense, retaining the flair of the current format. I think it’s unlikely that my three-team format is adopted, but a format involving more than four teams would be outrageous. Holding the Ivy League tournament at the Palestra every year would be fun, but the top team has to have a significant advantage or the importance of the regular season would be overly diminished. I wouldn’t mind a conference tournament, as long at the 14-Game Tournament doesn’t become the 14-Game Exhibition. Find a balance.

PETER ANDREWS

The 14-game tournament is unique to the Ivy League and one of my favorite things about it. Unless the conference tournament (a) is held in Levien Gymnasium every year and (b) features the Columbia Lions getting an automatic bid to the championship game, I don’t support it.

ANCIENT QUAKER

I do not fear change. In fact, I embrace it.  As for the Ivy hoops tournament, overall I think the basic concept is pretty stupid, but it appears now that it will likely happen nevertheless.  Most fear the tournament concept because of the classic argument that a lower seeded team will win and eventually embarrass the league during March Madness.  Overall I think statistically that is a remote possibility. (Still, I did manage to hook up with Beth “The Bod” Morgenstern in high School, so I suppose anything is possible.) What concerns me most is the growing lack of interest in the sport. Even at recent and historically winning programs, there is currently a significant amount of student apathy.  At Penn, which probably has (or had) the largest and most rabid hoops fan base, eight undergraduate classes have already departed without seeing a winner.  Student indifference towards athletics is at an all-time high both in the Ivy League and elsewhere.  Capacious venues like Franklin Field and the Palestra were clearly constructed for another era of collegiate fandom.  (The Quakers’ Ivy title clinching football game this year against Cornell drew whopping 6,000 fans at our 60,000-seat stadium.)

Also, Ivy League basketball fans, unlike Duke or Kentucky fans for example, historically do not “travel well.” All you have to do is look at the Harvard-Yale playoff last year in Philadelphia. Two of the league’s larger schools and fiercest rivals (save the Ps) couldn’t come close to filling the 9,000 seat Palestra for a contest for all the hoops marbles. (Actual attendance was 5,256. Big 5 women’s games often draw more spectators.)  Thus my feeling is that if these two schools couldn’t pack the house for such a meaningful game, then what will happen with a Brown –Dartmouth playoff? (Cue cricket noises.)

So why are we doing this? For money, most likely, obtained through lucrative TV contracts. I cannot begin to divine what the theoretical monetary payoff would be for such a tournament, so I will just say it will be profitable and therefore the primary engine for change.  So besides cash, why are the university athletic departments now suddenly so willing to dump the current format? Well, I imagine the league ADs believe exactly what I’ve stated above: Change is necessary to help shake up the current state of malaise in college sports. Also, I think some of them see this change as their only legal defense against Harvard’s recent hegemony in recruiting. Let’s face it, even if coach Tommy Amaker were to leave Cambridge tomorrow, there is no reason to think that his successor couldn’t continue his present blueprint for success on the recruiting trail.  Thus, it might give one of the other seven an outside shot at upsetting the Crimson and their burgeoning roster of “Superfriends.”

So assuming that an Ivy tournament is now pretty much a fait accompli, how would this new format work in AQ World?  My “Special” Ivy Basketball tournament rules:

  • It is a four-day tournament with a rest day before the final. The top five teams are entered. Any ties in Ivy competition are first broken by head-to-head record or, if they are split, overall season record.
  • The team with the best record gets a bye for the first round. 2 then plays No. 5, while No. 3 plays No. 4.  The next day, No. 1 plays the winner with the lowest overall seed and the other two winners play each other.
  • The championship game is then held after a rest day to allow a travel day for the participants’ fans to attend in force. (At least that is the hope.)
  • Of course, the best, grandest and most prestigious venue would be the Palestra. However, as we all discovered last year, it may simply be too big for such a nascent event. It is also geographically isolated, located in the southernmost Ivy campus more than five light years from Hanover. I therefore propose Columbia’s high schoolesque Levien Gym. It is centrally located in a major transportation hub and the gym’s smaller size (about 2,500) will be more conducive to ticket exclusivity and thus more likely to sell out.  Another possibility is having the entire tournament at the regular season winner’s school. This would give them the best overall advantage as a reward for winning the most games. But if Dartmouth or Cornell win, the only people in the stands will have blue hair and will be drinking Metamucil coolers.

That’s all I’ve got.  Although I think it’s a dumb idea, it’s gonna happen so we all better get used to it.  After all, as Quaker fans have sadly found out to our chagrin, change is inevitable.

THE SUPPORT:

SAM TYDINGS

With Gary Parrish’s story that the Ivy League is expected to institute a conference tournament for the 2016-17 season, the debate should finally begin to shift from “Should there be an Ivy tournament?” to “How should it be instituted?”. I would likely be preaching to the choir of readers of this website if I came out strongly against an eight-team postseason tournament. I think everyone can agree it would completely devalue the strong regular season upon which the league has prided itself. While a four-team tournament will ultimately put all teams on equal footing (aside from home court advantage),  a three-team tournament would be exciting while still giving the best team through 14 regular season games an advantage in the conference tournament.

The league has not had a three-way playoff since 2002, one of the most memorable seasons in Ivy history. A three-way playoff ensures that finishing with the best record in the league remains valuable, as the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds would have to sweep a weekend to win the conference title while the No. 1 seed would only have to win one game. This would also safeguard against the conference tournament diluting the meaningfulness of the regular season too much, as fewer than half of the teams would have a chance to make the postseason in the final weekend. The race for the No. 3 seed would be compelling through the final few weeks of the season as well. There is a certain segment of Ivy fans that will not be happy with any postseason. However at this point, an extra weekend of Ivy basketball seems inevitable. We should be sure we are supporting a plan that maintains the integrity of Ivy regular season while also guaranteeing compelling basketball throughout the final few weekends and providing more exposure for the league just before selection Sunday. A three-team tournament meets all of these objectives.

STEVEN TYDINGS

I’ve been somewhat vocal on this subject previously. I believe there should be a tournament with the title game at the Palestra. Unlike most (and relatively unrealistically), I think the Ancient Eight would be best off with a three-team tournament, creating intrigue as teams vie for each position with each having its own importance. The first game would be held at the home court of the No. 2 team.

Most likely though, I think they’ll implement a four-team tournament that would be played at the home court of the higher seed. If you do a four-team tourney, I’d like to at least see the semifinal at the Palestra for a potentially wild doubleheader and tense rivalries on display. My main reason for wanting a tournament (finally I get to the point) is to gain exposure for the conference, potentially getting some more $$$ into the league and a slim (emphasis on slim) chance of a two-bid league. At worst, you could help more teams like 2014-15 Yale get into the NIT.

RICHARD KENT

It’s time. It really is. Ivy League basketball is played at a higher level now, top to bottom,          than in years past. The same for the Ivy League women. The coaches want a tournament, the players want a tournament and the fans do. It should be played in New York. I am not certain of the site, as the Columbia gym is probably too small. It should involve the top four teams, with the men and women alternating days. That said, it won’t be. it will be played at the Palestra for at least the first five years, because of the   rich basketball tradition there and the size of the building. It might be overly optimistic to think that the building will sell out for anything but the men’s final. Penn’s fortunes will improve dramatically over the next few years, based on current recruiting, and the Palestra might be too much of an unfair advantage for the Quakers, unless tickets are allocated in a way in which fans from the likes of Yale and Harvard will have an equal opportunity.

JAKE MASTBAUM

Ah, the good ‘ole Ivy Basketball conference tournament. We saw the league flirt with the idea back in 2012 just to see it rejected by the athletic directors and now, apparently it’s back on the table. Good idea? Bad idea? This Ivy follower is in favor of a conference tournament, presuming it’s constructed properly.

Why?

Look at the one-game playoffs we’ve seen in recent Ivy League history. Princeton vs. Harvard in 2011 (ending on a Doug Davis buzzer beater). Harvard vs. Yale in 2015 (decided by a Steve Moundou-Missi jumper with 7.2 seconds left). Imagine that every year? Only now the conference will have the proper time to set up a venue and legitimate broadcasting rights. I’m excited just thinking about it.

But that’s not the only reason. This is not your father’s Ivy League. There is very good basketball being played in this conference and not enough casual fans have taken notice. In 2008, the Ivy League’s conference RPI was 24th. Last season, it rose to 15th. TV deals with the Ivy League Digital Network, NBC Sports Network, and ESPN3 comprised a good start to help exposure, and a conference tournament with a NCAA Tournament bid on the line can push that exposure over the top.

Also, there’s the dream of a two-bid Ivy League. Every year we talk about it and every year it doesn’t happen. With the Ivy League becoming a stronger conference and showing it can win in the Big Dance, it feels like it’s time to see more than a lonely representative in play on Selection Sunday. A well-designed conference tournament is the way to accomplish this.

So how should an Ivy League conference tournament be designed? Most importantly, it should not contain all eight schools. This is key.

The beauty of the Ivy League is that every game is so important. I wouldn’t want to lose that. If anything, a conference tournament should enhance that feeling without watering down the quality and the deservingness of its champion. Starting with the top four in the standings is the way to go. It will keep more teams in the race longer. An injury for a few games won’t ruin your season. Dropping the first two games to your travel partner won’t mean you’re already out of the race.

More schools will be relevant deeper into the season. Students, faculty, alumni, and fans in general will have a reason to stay engaged with Ivy basketball longer, keeping more eye balls on the screen (or court). And most importantly, I truly believe after a four-game playoff, a worthy champion will be crowned. Let’s see it happen!

13 thoughts on “Thoughts on the creation of an Ivy conference tournament: Yea or nay?

  1. Ivy League post-season tournament? This is an idea beyond dumb for so many reasons. Hopefully, Ivy higher-ups will put an end to this.

  2. Now that The AQ has publicly outed both me and our one regrettable night in high school, I feel compelled to issue a rebuttal. First of all, I kind of felt sorry for him. Secondly, he was so excited about heading off to Penn in the fall that I thought it was very inspiring that he had gotten over being rejected from his first, second and third choice schools. Lastly, after spending most of my high school career dating members of the football team, I imagined that it might be kind of fun to hook up with a guy who had more of a squishy, cuddly body — like having sex with a big stuffed pillow. Which it was, through and through, if you know what I mean.

    Love,
    Beth

    P.S. A conference tournament is a completely stupid idea.

    • Beth! So good to hear from you after all these years. I feel compelled to apologize after infecting you with the Clap and thus creating, through your rampant collegiate promiscuity, The Great Gonorrhea Epidemic of 1979 across the Princeton campus. After the football team started peeing fire in high school, I thought you might have caught on to me, but alas no. Nevertheless, congratulations on being voted “Most Popular Vector” at Old Nassau. Drop me a line and I’ll be sure to visit you and your Baby Daddy down at the shelter

      All my love ( and spirochetes),

      The AQ

  3. Can you imagine how much fun Beth could have on an Ivy Basketball Tourney Weekend, with a bunch of Ivy Leaguers who got into their first choice school? Let’s not rain on her (possible) parade. If the Coaches/Players/ADs want to play 1 or 2 more games, good on them.

  4. Count me in with those in favor of a post-season tournament. From a selfish standpoint, I would be really excited to see four teams and three games, but the three-team scenario noted in the article would certainly be acceptable.

    While I would like it to be held at the home of the regular season champion, having it a larger venue and/or media market, like Philadelphia or New York, would be understandable. Having the Big East Tournament at MSG certainly was a great idea and did not give any significant advantage to St. John’s over the totality of that tournament.

    While the presence of a post-season tournament does lessen the regular season championship with regards to the NCAA automatic bid, nothing should take away from the outstanding achievement of winning the regular season. Additionally, having the tournament will allow the regular season champion the opportunity to get a bid to the Post-Season NIT, in case it does not win the conference tournament.

    We have a league that is growing in overall strength with great players and passionate fans. Why not have a league-wide gathering and show the rest of the nation what we have to offer. With the right amount of interest from the school President, ADs, Coaches and Media, we should hopefully pack arenas from Hanover to Philadelphia.

    Besides, if it turns out that it does not work out, then you go back to the way it was. It’s not like it hasn’t been done by any other group. From 1987-1990, the PAC-10 had a conference tournament. When it wasn’t working out as well as they had hoped, they cancelled it and started up again in 2002.
    Why not give it a try. The PAC-10 gave it a go for a few years in the late 1980s before stopping it and brining it back in the early 2000s.

  5. Count me in as one in favor of the tournament. It gives more meaning to regular season games late in the season as teams would vie for playoff spots. I have a feeling it would resemble the lax tournament with the top 4 teams getting in. Hope it goes through then on to allowing to play football to play post season.

  6. No one plowing new ground here, apparently not the AQ either. Conference tournaments are the product of TV networks willing to spend boatloads of money for a show with relatively little production cost and athletic departments anxious to increase revenues. Every conference other than ours awards expensive scholarships based on basketball ability. Someone has to pay for them. It might as well be a television network. For an astute analysis of how the big business model can undermine the values of a great university on almost every level I recommend John Bacon’s “End Zone,” published in September. The suggestion that the Ivy League needs “exposure” is silly. Coaches want as many chances to win as they can get. I understand that attitude and I respect it. But I do not agree that their preference should control this issue. I remain unpersuaded and await anxiously the press release setting forth the rationale for this “reform.”

  7. Aside to Richard Kent: Between 1965 and 1979 the Ivy League was far more competitive nationally than it has been since. To support this position I refer you to a recent book written by Paul A. Hutter, titled “The Golden Age of Ivy League Basketball,” published by OutskirtsPress in 2013. Available at Amazon for $17.95.

  8. Agreed Mr T. If the league wants more exposure, better recruits etc. , they could adapt a Duke or Stanford model. The Eight already have name recognition, chip some scholarship cash in and you’ve got yourself a very nationally competitive league. A tourney at this juncture, with the current level of talent and low interest in hoops is an embarrassing waste of time.

  9. College basketball is meant to be for those that want to play and enjoy a game they love, while they get their degree. It is not supposed to be the big business it has become. It is not supposed to be a minor league for the NBA. The ivy league, I hope, still takes pride in allowing for students to have an opportunity to learn. I hope they put that above all. Since they still play Friday+Saturday to minimize basketball time and maximize class time, it seems as if they do. The idea of an ESPN greed driven conference tournament is offensive on so many levels. I have only stated the obvious.

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