The Ivy League announced Monday that all regular season men’s and women’s conference games will be played at the Palestra in 2019, in addition to the Ivy League Tournament in March.
“The Palestra is the league’s most storied venue, and we want the kind of electric atmosphere all season long that Ivy tournament games with Penn playing in them has given us,” an Ivy League official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the Ivy League hasn’t yet finalized details of a forthcoming press conference about the move at the Palestra likely to be conducted by Penn Athletic Director Grace Calhoun.
“This is a great win for the Ivy League,” Calhoun said. “It’s a real game-changer. Almost like when the Missouri Valley Conference got Loyola-Chicago, you might say.”
“All conference tournaments are gimmicks when you think about it,” the Ivy League official said. “Why not extend the gimmick the whole season long? We want an amped-up atmosphere at all games, not just a couple hundred people in Hanover wearing flannel or fans having to sit through technical difficulties up in Ithaca.”
The Ivy League and its athletic directors are looking forward to season-long continuity throughout its women’s and men’s basketball schedules and reclaiming the league’s reputation for doing things differently from the other Division I conferences, one cultivated by years of being the only league without a conference tournament, per league sources.
The league initially wanted a neutral site for all conference games and the league tournament, but shied away after a league analysis found that the equidistant point among all eight Ivy schools is a broom closet on the campus of Western Connecticut State University.
“It’s always more special when we can gather on an actual Ivy campus. It’s even more special when we’re not cooped up inside a broom closet,” league Executive Director Robin Harris said, declining further comment.
Calhoun noted that Penn offered to use the bricks it had gathered from its 5-for-14 free-throw shooting performance in the NCAA Tournament against Kansas to build a new 5,000-seat arena to house the Ivy tourney, but the league’s athletic directors declined, admitting that the Palestra was better option. Penn decided to put the bricks toward a new college house instead.
Seizing an opening, Penn women’s basketball coach Mike McLaughlin took all eight Ivy athletic directors to dinner, then breakfast, and lunch, knowing that they’d be voting on the tourney site. Then he sent them flowers.
In the end, it worked. The league’s athletic directors decided not to pay extra money for a neutral site that might attract less attendance anyway and admitted they didn’t plan to construct arenas that might be suitable for a conference tournament anytime soon.
The Ivy League Tournament on both the men’s and women’s sides will still consist of the top four teams in conference play, but the bottom four seeds will now have the opportunity to compete at their discretion in the Ivy Invitational Tournament (IIT), which will be held at Levien Gym indefinitely.
“It’s in New York, and having the Columbia men and women there could really make for a fantastic atmosphere,” an Ivy League official said. “They’ve got great fans there.
The men’s and women’s tournaments will continue to be broadcast on ESPN2 and ESPNU. The schedule for the games is still being sorted out.
“We want to make the national splash that our student-athletes have earned,” Harris said. “The Palestra is the most obvious place to make that happen. And, really, it just sounds awesome there.”