Celebrating Penn’s regular season title with a shower of realism

For more than half a decade, I’ve spent my Fridays and Saturdays checking Ivy basketball scores, waiting for Penn to get another Ivy title (on the men’s side at least, I’ve seen the women do it a few times!). However, on one of the more consequential weekends in that pursuit, I was struck with a bout of indifference and a twinge of disappointment.

As you surely know reading this site, Penn clinched a co-regular season championship with Harvard on Saturday, ending an 11-year drought between Ivy crowns. It’s been way too long and there’s certainly some satisfaction as a fan watching them pull it off.

The disappointment is understandable: The Quakers had blown their opportunity to win the outright title and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Ivy League Tournament, which would have not only given them a chance to play a No. 4 seed they had swept in the regular season but also an automatic bid into the NIT if they didn’t win the tournament.

That disappointment would have been the same if there was no Ivy Tournament. Instead of clinching an NCAA Tournament bid right then and there, Penn would instead have been forced into a winner-take-all battle with Harvard on a neutral court, just like Harvard and Yale experienced a few years ago.

Yet the feeling I had more than disappointment was indifference. With the Ivy Tournament in place, Penn was simply playing for seeding and had a pair of not-quite-so-neutral court games for an NCAA bid schedule for this weekend if they beat Yale/Brown or not. I ultimately knew that winning the regular season title, shared or not, meant little with respect to Penn’s Ivy hopes. I followed the results but was more checking how Cornell/Princeton/Columbia did than Penn, wondering which team would sneak into the exclusive field.

I can’t same I’m fully indifferent to a Penn title, regular season or not. The program has simply come so far from the dark Glen Miller era and as evidenced by the post-2 a.m. Palestra net-cutting, this is something worth celebrating both inside and outside the locker room. It’s definitely banner-worthy. But I’m still forced, at least partially, to view the accomplishment through a lens of realism considering the team hasn’t clinched a postseason bid and a NCAA Tournament berth is still tantalizingly out of reach for now.

This isn’t to say I’m not a fan of the Ivy Tournament. I am a fan, though I would critique the formatting. As I advocated for when the concept was first announced, a three-team tournament, played on the higher seeded team’s home court, is the best way to reward teams. This way, each seed means something and the field is that much more exclusive. The past two years, that format would have eliminated an unworthy under .500 team from the men’s field (I’d say it’s well-formatted for this year’s women’s field.)

The Ivy Tournament comes with a cost in terms of fandom. You get the extra games of excitement at the end, but it still draws some of the suspense and some of the race from No. 1. Last year was ideal with both No. 1 seeds winning it all and getting entertaining, close games along the way. Will it work out quite so cleanly this season? I’m unsure, but unlike with the regular season’s finale, there’s no chance I’ll be indifferent towards the final result.

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