Playoffs?! Playoffs?!

What do you reckon Jim Mora's reaction to Dartmouth's 2014-15 season was?
What do you reckon Jim Mora’s reaction to Dartmouth’s 2014-15 season was?

This is the Ivy League.

It is not the ACC, nor is it the Big East, or even the WCC. This is the Ivy League, and consequently, the level of play is, let’s say, different than it is in other more visible college basketball leagues. Because the Ivy League does not give athletic scholarships, and because of the long history of exclusion that is entrenched in the DNA of the Ivy League, watching a rivalry game between Princeton and Penn is drastically different between watching one between Duke and North Carolina — though the intensity and passion from a fan’s perspective may be comparable. This would be more or less fine — you know, if you’re comfortable with divisions of large swaths of people based on a system of elitism — but every year come March, one of the Ancient Eight schools gets thrown into a bigger pond with bigger fish.

The best college basketball players come together in March in the name of establishing who is the true top dog. The Big Dance, packed with juggernauts and Cinderellas, is a tournament with the sole aim to determine the nation’s best basketball team. Tournaments, by definition, are designed to determine the best contestant. Of course, sometimes the “best” team is not the highest-seeded. Since 1979 there has been only one year, 2008, when all No. 1 seeds made the Final Four. However, because of the size of the National Tournament, more often than not the winner is a team that had been dominant all year. Villanova is the lowest seed, No. 8, to win the whole tournament, and that was thirty years ago. By far, the highest concentration of tournament winners is made of teams seeded no lower than third. The sheer size of the NCAA tournament makes lower seeds beating higher seeds aberrations, and aptly names them “upsets.” This failsafe could not exist with a tournament with a drastically smaller pool of teams.

In steps the Ivy League. Every year, as is customary, the Ancient Eight’s winningest team that season gains an automatic bid to the tournament. Fantastic! The best Ivy team will have the opportunity to represent itself and the league against teams traditionally considered (sometimes for good reason) to be athletically superior. Cornell’s deep run into the Sweet Sixteen in 2010 was thrilling only because the Big Red were the best Ivy team and had a chance against teams like Temple and Wisconsin, ranked 12th and 16th in the country respectively, even though no one thought they did. They were outmatched in name alone, not necessarily in talent. The ability to actually compete with larger schools will be ceremoniously shot into the sun with the implementation of an Ivy League tournament.

Yes, I know you must be thinking, “Miles, why wouldn’t you want an exciting tournament at the end of the season? Are you some sort of monster?!”

Simple answer: yes. I’m the monster that wants to spare you from a 5-9 Columbia team waltzing into the tournament after flailing and languishing in its sloth-like pace of play, its insistence on hoisting up ill-advised threes like privileged fraternity kids throw up what they think are gang signs, and its unofficial crowning as the league leader in pump fakes, only to flip the switch and win three consecutive games. A team like Columbia (or Dartmouth, who is responsible for this play-in game on Saturday) can get hot at the right time and snatch the automatic bid from a more deserving team like Harvard or Yale. And if you are a true lover of the Ivy League and would like to see it flourish and expand, you don’t want just any team playing in March. Kyle Smith’s Lions could be as hot as a stolen blowtorch and they’d still get bounced in the first round. Teams like Yale and Harvard would at least have a chance to be competitive and represent the league well on a national stage.

An Ivy playoff kills the #2bidivy pipe dream. In fact, Kyle Smith is probably the biggest friend to any two-bid Ivy possibility because he, unlike so many other coaches, is willing to schedule tough out-of-conference opponents. Playing teams like Michigan State and Kentucky in close regular season games is more beneficial to the reputation of the Ivy League than getting blown out by a mid-major in the first round of the tournament. And no, the teams that go to the CBI or the CIT don’t do anything more for the propulsion of the integrity of Ivy hoops than you or I do. It really is Big Dance or bust, and the best way to do that is make sure you put your best metaphorical foot forward.

Basketball is an incredible sport. Let’s not hinder it with a combination of general mediocrity of Ivy-caliber teams and the arbitrary and unpredictable nature of the MLB playoffs. If for no other reason, no one wants to see Penn raising a banner in November to commemorate the drubbing they received at the hands of an underperforming Georgetown team in the name of Ivy parity.


2 thoughts on “Playoffs?! Playoffs?!”

  1. Have to say I am not a big fan of this article. Many of his assumptions may have been true in the 80’s and 90’s, but not today. Are Ivy athletes the cream of the crop? No. But they are good enough to hang with 90% of the teams in the NCAA. The last place Ivy team probably had the best win of the year when Brown beat Providence.

    Personally, I would much rather watch a true student athlete play in a tourney than 1 and done players. I don’t begrudge 1 and done players and find their ability amazing, but that is not what college is about. If the NCAA tourney was truly an invite for the top 68 teams, you wouldn’t have mid major conference champions receiving bids. The selection would be made by some type of BCS computer system.

    It could be an illusion, but all signs point to a power 5 tourney and an everyone else tourney in the not to far distant future. Just wait, it is going to happen.

    I do appreciate must win games in January, but how could anyone not like the intensity of these mid-major tourney games right now. Young teams (or any teams) that improve during the season and get hot in March and win the conference tourney – good for the game.

    I also see a very troublesome trend regarding attendance at Ivy games, More so than ever. Gyms 2/3 empty is not good for the league. You want to boost attendance for a school, have a conference tourney and watch an underdog win a few games. Both student and alumni fandom will carry over to the next season. But, that is not what the Ivy is about…

    • Hi Gus,
      Thanks for commenting, I enjoyed your response. All Miles is saying is that the Ivy League isn’t on a par with the “power 5” teams you reference, which we see every year when an Ivy champ is matched up with, let’s say, a No. 3 or No. 4 seed. The Ivy is middle-of-the-pack when matched up with all other conferences and rising, but it’s obviously still below the conferences that the Ancient Eight champ has to match up in in tourney after tourney.

      The NCAA tourney is 68 teams because it gives every conference a chance to compete, a chance to put its best teams possible out there. The intensity down the Ivy stretch run has been incredibly high even without a conference tourney. Sure, a tourney would consolidate that intensity into just a few short days, but I enjoy said intensity more spread out over a league slate, also a greater body of work. It does come back to preference and philosophy.

      A conference tourney wouldn’t be even close to a panacea for down-trending Ivy attendance, but you do hit on what for many is an inherent Ivy conflict between prioritizing athletics less and giving into fandom. I don’t think there actually has to be a conflict there at all. I think the prevailing thought among the Ivy powers that be is, ’Don’t make athletics bigger and longer than they need to be,’ and I find the debates that stem from that thought fascinating.

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