Thoughts on the Ivy League canceling the 2020-21 basketball season

A crowd of 1,636 gathered at Lavietes Pavilion on March 6 to watch Harvard host Brown. Four days later, the Ivy League canceled its conference tournaments to guard against COVID-19 transmission, a move many in college basketball considered unthinkable at the time. | Erica Denhoff

The Ivy League announced Thursday evening that winter sports for the 2020-21 season were cancelled in an effort to mitigate transmission of COVID-19. Was eliminating Ivy hoops the right move? Our contributors offer their thoughts:

Rob Browne:

Ray Curren: 

I think it really hit home when Ken Pomeroy tweeted out that with the Ivy League cancellation, Maine and New Hampshire are set to become the longest continuous rivalry in college basketball, which began in 1905. The game and world were a little different back then.

You know it’s only a sport, not overly important to the functioning of our society. Your brain is aware that one season of basketball versus saving lives in the throes of a deadly pandemic is a blowout from the opening tip.

But it still hurts. And it will at various times this winter, especially as we enter next March. So many memories have been made watching Ivy basketball, the most prominent for me, of course, being Yale’s 2016 run that culminated in the NCAA Tournament win over Baylor. I can’t imagine how the coaches and players feel, many of whom I have gotten to know over the years. Unlike eight months ago, at least this didn’t come as a surprise. “The writing has been on the wall for a while,” one coach texted me. The recent spike just made the Ivy League’s decision much more obvious.

There is no blame or malice toward the Ivy League, by the way. In a way, I’m proud that there is still a place where the term student-athlete has at least a hint of not being an oxymoron. If it’s not safe for all students to be on campus full-time, how can you justify student-athletes traveling to other states to play a game?

You can’t.

I mentioned the 2016 Yale team, and my wingman for the New Haven Register at the end was columnist Chip Malafronte, who tragically died this summer at 48, not of COVID but after a long battle with cancer. There are more important things than basketball games.

Ivy League hoops will return. Sadly, many of the great seniors – Paul Atkinson, Brendan Barry, Jimmy Boeheim – probably won’t. However, life is full of things we can’t control, no matter how much we want to. This is certainly one of them. So mask up and we’ll see you next November.

Erica Denhoff: 

I fully support the Ivy League’s decision. While I am not a current Ivy League student-athlete, I was a varsity letter winner on the Penn women’s track and field team from 2004 to 2007, so I’ve given some thought to how I would feel if I were a student-athlete today. My confidence as an athlete diminished after I had a bad week training, was sick or injured, tired, or if I somehow felt unprepared for a track and field meet.  Given all the limitations today with social distancing and capacity restrictions, athletes are probably feeling physically unprepared for a great basketball season. I’d say scrap this basketball season, work hard to the best of one’s ability given the restrictions, and be ready for a (hopefully) full, unrestricted season next year.

Richard Kent:

Ivy basketball was cancelled both because of the expanded virus outbreak in this country and because students are not physically present on many of the Ivy campuses. Hence, the Ivy League views it to be inconsistent with the mission of the member institutions for athletes only to be both on campus and participating in intercollegiate athletics.
With the Patriot League permitting league-only contests, the Ivy will be the only league to cancel its season.
I do not take issue with this concern. But I do think that the league has opportunities to reverse, even if only on a singular 2020 basis, some it its outdated policies and not penalize its student-athletes.
The Ivy currently does not permit student-athletes, enrolled on campus to take a redshirt or medically mandated year off. This seems overly harsh in a year which will probably never replicate itself.
The league should make an exception and permit student-athletes who enrolled this year and are seniors to come back, attend graduate school on campus and have one last year of eligibility. Not permitting this only hurts the student-athletes, who the league is ostensibly trying to protect, as well as the long term health and viability of the conference.
How? There will be a mass exodus of seniors to other programs in 2021. Just look at the portal. It is dotted in many sports, including basketball with Ivy athletes.
The Ivy position will undoubtedly be used as a recruiting tool against players trying to decide between, say, Harvard, Stanford and Northwestern.
If a debater at Yale or Cornell didn’t complete all of his or her course work and came back in 2021, would that individual be barred from participating on the debate team? The answer is clearly no. Why should athletes be treated differently?

Palestra Pete: 

How can you remember something that never was?

Well, the 2020-21 Ivy season is gone before it began, and yet we won’t forget it soon. After March Muddle, the Ivy Tournament’s abrupt cancellation, we hoped for a disease contained and a season unrestrained — or abbreviated, with limited travel. Play the league; play the Big 5. But by the time of the Ivy announcement, with new cases nationwide approaching 1 million per week, even the most enthusiastic fans would have a hard time arguing for a slate of games.

So I won’t set foot into the Palestra this year to cover women’s hoops. I’ll live. And I might not have if I’d gone to all those games — all that yelling can kick a lot of viral particles into the air. (The director of my community choir, also now sidelined, mused the other night over Zoom, “I never thought I would have the most dangerous job in the world.”) I won’t get to see Quakers coach Mike McLaughlin calmly pointing out an official’s mistaken call — it’s bound to happen sooner or later, right? I won’t see Penn guard Kayla Padilla showing off even stronger skills — and more consistency — than she displayed in her explosive first year. I’d especially been looking forward to a second year of her contests and contrasts with Abbey Hsu of Columbia, the other standout guard from last year’s first-year players. And which new players would have been the blazing revelations of this phantom season?

I’ll confess that I also was looking forward to watching an Ivy season with no Bella Alarie. I’m a basketball fan, and Alarie is superb; but she was playing for Princeton, and Princeton has won often enough as far as I’m concerned. It saddens me, though, that we’ve now lost the senior years of, among others, Princeton’s Carlie Littlefield, the very model of a modern point guard. And Penn’s seniors, led by center and force of nature Eleah Parker: How good was she going to be this year? How much fun would it be, again, to watch Michae Jones light up the court?

We’ll never know. And we’ll remember this season for the tantalizing might-have-beens.

See you next fall.

Leave a Comment