Fallout continues over decision to cancel the Ivy League Tournament

Things have not calmed down after Tuesday afternoon’s bombshell announcement from the Ivy League and its eight presidents that this weekend’s Ivy League Tournaments were canceled, making the league the first conference to cancel tournament play.

The conference likes to refer to its tournament as Ivy Madness.  To paraphrase Harvard senior Seth Towns, the 2018 Player of the Year, it’s more like Ivy Mayhem.

Ivy Hoops Online began reaching out to the Ivy League about the coronavirus issue on February 27 (and Harvard Athletics and Harvard University Health Services on March 4) and described its potential to be a disruptive force for the tournament on March 6. We contacted the conference office, Monday to find out about any changes to the tournament and were told that no decisions had been made.

After today’s announcement, Ivy Hoops Online wrote to the Ivy League to find out more details about the considered options, as well as the decision making process.  As of this time, there has been no response to our questions.

One of our questions, however, regarding the possibility of Harvard hosting another Ivy Tournament was also asked by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald. His reporting:

I have been told that as of now, the Ivy League has not yet decided whether the basketball tournaments hosting rotation will continue as planned next year and go to Princeton, or whether Harvard will host in 2021 and push everyone else a year later.

According to the Yale Daily News, Eli players and coaches directed requests for comment to the Ivy League.  Despite those referrals, Yale spokesman Mike Gambardella gave a quote to the Hartford Courant:

“It’s a bittersweet moment for us,” Yale spokesman Mike Gambardella said. “We’re happy our men will get an (automatic bid), but disappointed that our women won’t be able to compete for a championship.”

One member of the Yale women’s team, star senior all-Ivy guard Roxy Barahman took to twitter to voice her displeasure.

Absolutely heartbreaking. Kids who have worked hard for 4 years for these institutions just to get stripped of the opportunity to play in the big dance. Extremely confusing why all other tournaments from other conferences are still going on and not ours.

Host Harvard, which swept regular season champion Yale, looked forward to being the third straight No. 2 seed to host the Ivy Tournament and claim the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Coach Tommy Amaker came out with a statement reflecting his team’s disappointment, while respecting the administrative decision.

This is an unprecedented situation and I fully support the University and College’s actions to protect the health and well-being of our students – including all of our student-athletes.  I trust and admire President Bacow’s leadership and vision for Harvard.  He has always done what is in the best interest of our students and the Harvard community.

Carla Berube, head coach of the women’s regular season champion and nationally No. 2117 ranked Tigers, and men’s coach Mitch Henderson released statements at the Princeton Athletics website.

“We understand that the well-being and safety of the teams, coaches and fans was at the heart of the decision made to cancel the Ivy League Basketball Tournaments. At the same time, our team is disappointed to not have the opportunity to compete this weekend alongside our fellow competitors. We were looking forward to showcasing the high-quality caliber of play inside the Ivy League on both the women’s and men’s sides. I am especially saddened for my colleague, Mitch, and his team. We were all looking forward to a great weekend for everyone involved with Princeton Basketball.”

“We appreciate the Ivy League’s concern for the health and safety of the teams, coaches and fans in regards to canceling the Ivy League Basketball Tournaments. I am extremely disappointed for our student-athletes who will not have the opportunity to continue their careers as Princeton Tigers. This is an emotional time for all involved with Princeton Men’s Basketball, especially our seniors – Jose, Will and Richmond. They have been outstanding representatives of our program, I am heartbroken that they will not have another opportunity to compete on a national stage for our University.”

Columbia women’s coach Megan Griffith, who guided her Lions to the team’s first ever  Ivy League Tournament berth, added her thoughts.

“The decision to cancel the Ivy League Tournament is disappointing news for our Columbia community and every other school in our league. All of our student-athletes work tirelessly all season to be able to compete in March and earn an opportunity to represent our conference in the NCAA Tournament. This whole situation is extremely unfortunate. We are all aware that the Coronavirus and its rippling effects are very serious and have impacted many campuses nationwide. My heart goes out to all programs, student-athletes and coaches, especially seniors who are facing the end of their careers.”

Penn women’s coach Mike McLaughlin shared his disappointment.

“Very challenging day for our players and coaches. Extremely disappointed that our players won’t get a chance to compete for an Ivy League championship!They have worked unbelievably hard all season for this opportunity. I just want them to know how incredibly proud I am of them.”

The Quakers coach, who told the Daily Pennsylvanian that Ivy coaches had minimal involvement in the decision making process, was more open with the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Mike Jensen regarding the conference’s double standard of stopping the hoopsters from playing while allowing other Ivy winter and spring athletes to continue playing.

“To allow these other sports to continue this weekend and cancel this tournament is really hard to explain to your young ladies.  They’re very intelligent. It’s not OK for them to play, for their safety, while it’s OK for others. It’s wrong in so many ways. … The hypocrisy is difficult for really mature young ladies to accept.”

Penn men’s coach Steve Donahue, who called the league’s decision “the most horrific thing I’ve dealt with as a coach,” also noted the hypocrisy.

“To have to tell kids their seasons and their careers are over, while lacrosse teams are going off to play games and wrestlers are going to nationals. … If you’re letting Yale go to the NCAA Tournament — if they’d said across the board, we’re shutting down all sports, you’d understand.”

Several of McLaughlin’s players turned their disappointment and anger into action by starting a petition on Change.org to force the conference to reinstate the Ivy Tournament, even in front of an empty Lavietes Pavilion.

More concern about the spread of the virus would have led to the cancellation of not only all other tournaments, but all other sporting events as well. This weekend, other Ivy League teams are still scheduled to compete on the East Coast and across the country, with a limited amount of spectators. As of right now, Yale Women’s Lacrosse is flying to California to compete against Fresno State and multiple Ivy League baseball and softball teams are competing in Florida. Additionally, Ivy League wrestlers are flying to Minneapolis to compete in the NCAA tournament.

If it is deemed safe enough for teams to travel to higher level tournaments, then it should be safe enough for us to travel locally for the chance to compete. This is discrimination against the Ivy League men’s and women’s basketball teams.

We just want to play. As much as we want our family and friends to be in attendance, we don’t need spectators to play the sport we love. We acknowledge that this is a serious health issue and that there is a lot to consider in finding an alternate solution. However, we are ready and willing to invest the time and energy  to ensure that we can compete in the Ivy League tournament.

Within a few short hours, the site has garnered over 6,500 signatures, including Penn’s star forwards AJ Brodeur and Eleah Parker, Yale’s Ellen Margaret Andrews, Princeton’s Jerome Desrosiers and Columbia’s Madison Hardy.

The Ivy League responded to the petition with a quote to Mr. Jensen.

“The most difficult part of this decision was knowing the impact it would have on student-athletes who worked all season for these moments. We understand and sympathize with their disappointment.”

Nowhere in the conference’s short statement is there any promise to change its decision.

The Ivy League, faced with a number of challenging options during a national health crisis, made a controversial decision in becoming the first league to eliminate its post-season tournament, one which obviously angered players and Ancient Eight enthusiasts (and seemed to be an all too typical bungle to one sportswriter).  In order to attempt to regain the trust of these league stakeholders, Executive Robin Harris will need come out from behind the statements, be more transparent about the process and be willing to offer more detailed explanations.