Grading the inaugural Ivy League Tournament

After years of debating and voting on the efficacy of an Ivy League Tournament, the first one is in the books.

And it certainly has engendered much discussion amongst the Ivy faithful, given its prominence on the ESPN family of networks this past weekend (ESPNU for the semifinals and ESPN2 for the final).

From a national perspective, not so much, despite the fact that the venerable college basketball writer John Feinstein was one of the media members in attendance for the Saturday session. With that said, here is an attempt to grade the event in different categories:

Venue: How can anyone quibble with the Palestra? It is the best basketball facility in the Ivy and one of the five best in the country, when one includes Hinkle Fieldhouse, Madison Square Garden, Pauley Pavilion and Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Ivy staff did its best to cover up many of the Penn logos, but all the banners in the rafters made it clear that Penn has a distinct presence in the facility.The Palestra looked very spiffy and neat, to say the least.

Grade A

Press treatment: The media room was as stocked with food and press materials as any of the top media rooms in the country. The interview area was a perfect size and the staff was very helpful and knowledgeable.

Grade A+

Fairness: Now we get into a more dicey area.

On Saturday, the facility was almost filled, despite student spring breaks. With that, Penn claimed about 50 percent of the fans, Princeton 35 percent, Yale 10 percent and Harvard five percent. More Princeton fans showed up than any other student group. Penn and Princeton marketed the event quite well to students and alumni.

The fairness factor really didn’t impact the Saturday games, with the obvious caveat that if Penn had hit a free throw and won in regulation, then the Ivy would have sent either Yale or Penn to the NCAA Tournament and would not nearly have been represented by the best team in the league, Princeton.

Yale was at a decided disadvantage both in time to prepare and fan presence on Sunday at noon, with Daylight Saving Time being a factor. There is no reason why the games could not have been played on Friday and Sunday or Thursday and Saturday, as one former Ivy administrator suggested. Perhaps a few less fans would have shown up on a Thursday or Friday, but the teams would have been better rested for the tournament final and the NCAA turnaround.

There is no Ivy facility better than the Palestra and the only other facility big enough to house the crowds would be Jadwin. Plus, there is far more to do in Philadelphia than in Princeton.

Grade B

11 thoughts on “Grading the inaugural Ivy League Tournament

  1. Merchandising: F

    The crowd was decidedly NOT under 25. It was loaded with wealthy(i assume) alumni. These are also hard-core fans. The Ivy could have made a fortune in t-shirts, caps, etc. in participating school colors. They had nothing except a generic $40 dri fit shirt that said “Ivy League.” Not that I would buy any of this stuff, but isn’t part of the grand scheme here to make money? If you want to cash in , then cash in all the way. They really dropped the ball there. Have Robin Harris contact me for next year, only i get to keep all of the $$.

    Since it was an older crowd, hospitality tents (with or without alcohol) like tailgating at football games is also another idea. (Although I understand no one knew the demographics of spectators beforehand.)

    Finally, it was a good sized crowd for Penn-Princeton. (Few Penn students because of spring break.) I cannot imagine what would happen if it was Brown Dartmouth. One thing is certain, you’d get a great seat.

    The AQ

  2. A “B” for fairness ? Come on, above average fairness when the venue is one participant’s home court? I admit I’m a tournament hater, but isn’t it self-evident that playing on your home court, where you’ve practiced for months or years, is a significant advantage ? Grade for fairness – “F”

  3. “From a national perspective, not so much, despite the fact that the venerable college basketball writer John Feinstein was one of the media members in attendance for the Saturday session.”

    That’s a big strategic flaw of the tournament. It has reduced, not increased, the national profile of the league as we lose all the free coverage we used to get during the regular season of the league’s leaders. You cannot get anyone outside the League’s hardest-core fans to care about a race of bottom feeders trying to get the fourth seed, and you cannot get your tournament itself noticed among all the other ones going on at the same time. Most conferences probably would be better off without their tournaments and instead have more non-conference games on the schedule, but it is particularly bad for the Ivies.

  4. Overall, a solid A-. The games were exciting, and the student sections loud in response. The Palestra does give Penn an advantage, but all the coaches admitted they wouldn’t think of moving it from such a historic mecca. And I tip my cap to the league for allowing the Princeton fans to rush the court — a necessary celebration of any championship. But they should work on their pricing. $75 for Ivy League basketball?!? The empty sections for the finals were an embarrassing optic for the ESPN cameras. If those tickets were $10, more locals would’ve turned out, and brought their kids.

  5. Just listened to a recent interview with former Tiger coach Bill Carmody who echoed almost exactly my sentiments of the tournament in its current format. He said essentially that he thought it was terrible idea in a one bid league in that it undermined a season of hard work for the league championship. He also echoed my belief that, if there is to be a tourney, the prize should be an NIT spot rather than the NCAA bid. He believes this even though his Holy Cross team displaced its conference champion at the Dance by winning its conference tourney.

    Amen, Bill Carmody. Thank you for some sense in this debate.

  6. There are only 2 reasons why this unfortunate event is being played at specific times on a Saturday and Sunday, and even being played at all.; ESPN Money.

  7. Holding the tournament at The Palestra regardless of whether Penn makes the field is only justifiable for the inaugural edition. If you intend to make this tournament a permanent feature of the Ivy calendar, you cannot undermine the fundamental objective of providing a fair test of talent for athletes.

    Home court advantage is fact of life. Either accept that reality and hold the tournament elsewhere than The Palestra or cancel the damn tournament.

  8. I thought the Tournament was a tremendous success. The atmosphere for the Saturday games was electric and the venue provided the perfect stage for the teams and fans to celebrate something that felt special. The home court advantage for Penn is extremely regrettable, but I’m not sure there’s a better option available for the Ivy League. Fortunately, Princeton was able to survive a game effort by the Quakers; otherwise, there probably would be unanimous condemnation of the venue based on fairness grounds. The long term solution to the fairness issue is for the Ivy League to improve its out-of-conference record so that the regular season champion might gain serious consideration for an at-large bid. For example, Princeton came close to earning that consideration this season with an extremely robust out-of-conference schedule that included road or neutral court games against Cal, VCU, Monmouth, BYU, and Bucknell. Princeton lost all 5 of those games but was very competitive in each of them. Even so, the Tigers had an RPI that hovered around 50. I can’t remember what Yale’s RPI was last year or Harvard’s the year before, but my recollection is that they were within range of securing an at-large bid had they needed to. Thus, one upside to the Ivy Tournament is that at some point it may result in the Ivy League finally winning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. But for that to happen, a League regular season champion that is upset in the conference tournament will have to have beaten some top-50 opponents during the course of the non-conference schedule. Easier said than done but not impossible.

  9. The Tigers also lost a tough game to St. Joes. Ordinarily, that would have been a helpful opponent in terms of building an out of conference resume. Unfortunately, St. Joes had a really down season and the loss ended up hurting Princeton’s resume rather than the other way around. But I think Mitch’s approach will eventually pay off. If he continues to schedule 5-6 top-100 out of conference opponents, including 3-4 top 50 opponents, he puts his team in position to gain serious consideration for an at-large berth even if they lose in the Ivy League tournament. For example, if Princeton had beaten VCU (a team they led 18-0 early in the game), Cal and Monmouth and taken care of business at home against Lehigh and St. Joes, I think they would have been a legitimate bubble team even had they lost in the Ivy tournament. The day will come when something just like this happens and an Ivy team wins a second bid to the Big Dance.

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