Talking Ivy Madness with Ivy League Senior Assistant Director Trevor Rutledge-Leverenz

After holding the first two Ivy Tournaments at the University of Pennsylvania’s Palestra, it was widely assumed that the 2019 edition would move away from the league’s most famous arena. While the reviews for both events were positive from players, coaches, administrators and fans, there were some league stakeholders who had concerns. The main issues generally focused on the home court advantage for Penn, attendance problems associated with holding the tournament in the conference’s southern-most location, and the timing of the women’s semifinal match-ups.

On May 24th, a day before the start of Memorial Day Weekend, the Ivy League office announced that the third edition of Ivy Madness would be held on the campus of Yale University at the John J. Lee Amphitheater (JLA) at Payne Whitney Gymnasium. The tournament will occur on March 16th and 17th, in the middle of Yale’s two week spring recess, with the games taking place at the same times as the 2018 tournament. On Saturday, the men’s semifinals will tip-off at 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., while the women’s games will start at 6 p.m. and approximately 30 minutes following the conclusion of the previous contest. The men’s final will be held at noon on Sunday, and the women’s championships will be at 4 p.m.  All tournament games will be televised by ESPN on its family of networks.

While the choice of a more centrally located venue seemed understandable, the selection of another conference venue, especially one with a significantly smaller capacity (8,725 to 2,800) than the Palestra, came as an unhappy surprise to a number of Ivy hoops faithful. Also, the lack of any apparent changes to the women’s tournament looked to be a potential problem after a number of high-profile coaches voiced their concerns during the most recent tournament.

To answer questions about the tournament, the league’s decision making process and the concerns of league fans, we reached out to Trevor Rutledge-Leverenz, Ivy League Senior Assistant Executive Director, Communications and Championships. Below is the Q&A that occurred over several weeks in June and July.  We look forward to continuing the dialogue as Ivy Madness III approaches.

Ivy Hoops Online (IHO): Given the various comments from the women’s basketball coaches regarding location and start times at the Ivy Tournament what has been the reactions of those coaches to the decision to hold the 2019 Tournament at Yale and keep the same start times as the 2018 event?

Since the decision was made to keep the Tournament at a conference venue, was there any consideration to have the women’s semifinals be played on Friday night so they could have the spotlight more focused on their division while allowing the winners more rest for the Sunday late afternoon Final?

After receiving critical feedback from the women’s basketball coaches following the 2017 Tournament, the game times were changed for the 2018 event. What changes have been made, or are expected to be made, following feedback from those coaches after this year’s event?

Trevor Rutledge-Leverenz (TR-L): We met with the women’s basketball coaches at the Final Four and discussed many topics, including the Ivy League basketball tournaments. The feedback from the coaches was very positive; they agreed that their student-athletes had a very good experience at Ivy Madness. The coaches were unanimous that they wanted to keep the men’s and women’s tournaments together, and they want to continue playing their semifinals back-to-back. They understood that playing on Saturday makes it easier for Ivy fans to attend both the men’s and women’s games, particularly if both teams from one school qualify. The coaches also gave us positive feedback regarding the start times for their semifinals and championship.

I have not heard from any of the coaches regarding this announcement so I cannot speak to their reactions to the news that the 2019 Ivy Madness will be held at Yale, with the same format and schedule as last season. Campus sites was one of the topics that was discussed at their meeting and they were comfortable with the idea of playing at other Ivy League venues.

The Athletics Directors discussed many options regarding the format and schedule for Ivy Madness, and decided to maintain last year’s format for a variety of reasons focused on the student-athlete and fan experiences.

We will continue to discuss these and other topics with the basketball tournaments working group, which includes administrators from each campus.

IHO: You mentioned that the women’s coaches were comfortable playing the Tournament at other Ivy venues. Did the men’s coaches feel the same way?

TR-L: The men’s coaches support Ivy Madness and the experience it provides their student-athletes. They also discussed and supported Ivy campus sites among the options considered.

IHO: Have you received any feedback from coaches and players, from both divisions, that the Ivy Tournament has helped with recruiting?

TR-L: Our coaches do an exceptional job of recruiting some of the most talented student-athletes in the country that embrace the athletic and academic challenges of the Ivy League. We have had several conversations with both coach groups regarding continued evolution of Ivy League basketball and it is our collective opinions that Ivy Madness has certainly played a role in that growth.

IHO: Have you received any feedback from the coaches and athletes that the Tournament has helped morale for those teams that have struggled at the start of conference play?

TR-L: The coaches from both groups have noted that Ivy Madness has amplified the excitement of the regular season exponentially. Each of the past two seasons has seen all 16 teams in the mix for a tournament berth deep into the season. The fact that we take four teams to the tournaments means each team has to be the best it can be to earn its spot.

IHO: Does ESPN, as the league’s broadcast partner, have any input with regards to the location and format of the Tournament?

TR-L: The Ivy League Athletics Directors have determined the location and format of Ivy Madness, with input from the coaches and the working group, which consists of senior-level administrators from all eight schools. ESPN has been a true partner in launching Ivy Madness over the first two years and we are in constant communication with their team as the basketball tournaments evolve.

IHO: Has the league thought about finding a way to highlight star athletes from non-participating teams during the Tournament weekend?

TR-L: We have worked to use Ivy Madness to promote the many on and off the court accomplishments of our student-athletes across a variety of sports. We invite and honor the Legends of Ivy League Basketball, which features a men’s and women’s representative from each school, including former student-athletes, coaches and people that have had significant impact on our programs. We will continue to look at more ways to showcase our student-athletes and teams during Ivy Madness.

IHO: With a more centralized location for the 2019 event, we’re there any considerations to hold the Tournament at Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena, which has convenient travel access on I-95 and a similar basketball capacity as the Palestra? If so, what made the JLA a more favorable choice?

TR-L: The Athletics Directors felt Ivy Madness is a great vehicle for showcasing the history and tradition of our campuses and basketball arenas. Yale hosted the 2011 men’s basketball playoff between Princeton and Harvard to a packed house, with an incredible atmosphere, and we expect the same for this year’s Ivy Madness.

IHO: A recent Crimson article on the renovations at Lavietes Pavilion noted a concern that the smaller seating capacity might harm its potential of holding any future Ivy Tournament. After deciding on having next year’s event at the JLA, is the league comfortable hosting Tournaments at Lavietes and Leede?

TR-L: We believe each of our campuses holds its own unique tradition. The Athletics Directors continue to evaluate all moving parts that go into planning a successful Ivy Madness and, to date, have not established any seating requirements.

IHO: Since the JLA seats 2,800 and the average attendance for the first four Tournament days, as well as the 2015 Harvard-Yale Playoff, was around 5,250, what accommodations does the league expect to make for those passionate Ivy Tournament fans who are not going to be able to secure a seat?

TR-L: Our goal is to make Ivy Madness a first-class experience for the student-athletes, institutions and fans. As the decision to go to Yale for 2019 became a possibility, the League was proactively discussing all the possible options for how we can serve as many fans as possible in 2019.

IHO: Over the last few years, some Ivy fans have noticed issues with low audio and limited visuals of the entire length of the near sideline during Yale men’s and women’s basketball broadcasts. How will the league work to get the highest quality broadcast experience from the JLA to ideally showcase the teams and the conference to the nation at its premier event?

TR-L: We have the utmost trust in ESPN that they will continue to produce all six games of Ivy Madness with the same quality and appreciation for Ivy League Basketball as they have in the first two years.

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