What should Ivy League basketball do next?

Conference realignments, eye-popping TV deals and compensation for college athletes’ name, image and likeness have upended the college sports landscape. What is Ivy hoops’ place in all the hoopla? How should the Ivy League and its member schools raise the profile of its basketball programs? With Ivy student support waning and NIL on the rise, what moves would improve Ivy hoops? Our writers consider these looming questions below:

Rob Browne:

Despite being led by eight presidents that don’t seem to put a huge emphasis on athletics, the coaches, athletes and staffs do an incredible job being a competitive mid-major conference. With that noted, I cannot see Ivy hoops changing significantly without the inclusion of athletic scholarships.

While Ivy athletes, like Division III athletes, don’t receive scholarships, they do tend to have advantages in the admissions process. This certainly helps those students whose families are willing to pay the almost $350,000 four-year cost or can take advantage of the need-based financial aid packages. However, there are a lot of students whose families don’t feel the need to pay that type of money or don’t get enough in financial aid. Offering merit scholarships to athletes and non-athletes would increase opportunities for people in all parts of the socioeconomic spectrum to attain an Ivy League degree and would go a long way towards making the conference more successful.

I understand the admirable idea promoted from these schools that they limit those types of scholarships to be able to use aid money to a wider number of families, but the reality is that they can afford to use their large endowments to be much more generous and spread the wealth to a broader group of people.

Richard Kent:

It’s time for change on many levels. Ivy schools, which once got their pick of the litter of high school in college basketball in the 1960s and ’70s, now rarely compete for even three-star student-athletes. The Ivy recruiting competition, which was once California, Northwestern, Rutgers, etc., is now Towson, Loyola Chicago and Vermont, among others.

It’s extremely difficult for non-athletes to get into any Ivy. There are rampant stories about regular high school student-athletes with a 1580 and a 3.8 GPA getting rejected amid acceptance levels of 5% and even lower. There are also stories about Ivy student-athletes with a 1250 and a 3.5 GPA gaining admission. That’s not to say that those student-athletes aren’t good students. Most, if not all, are. But they were accepted in large part because they are exceptional athletes.

But then these students aren’t nourished once on campus. They take long-distance buses to games. They stay in pedestrian motels and hotels. They have below-average facilities to help them weight train. The Yale lacrosse facility is an exceptional exception, but facilities of that caliber are ubiquitous at most other Division I college basketball programs and all the power conferences.

Once at an Ivy university they are given few, if any, privileges that student-athletes at the likes of fine academic schools like Northwestern, Cal, Duke, Rice, Vanderbilt and Rutgers enjoy.

First, they have to pay anywhere between say 10% and the full cost of $80,000 to attend. There aren’t any athletic scholarships and no academic scholarships either.

The Ivy universities and the league itself do little to promote and market their excellence and their teams, locally and nationally. The Ivy television package is laughable. You rarely, if ever, see an Ivy contest on a non-streaming platform, and it takes a credit card and a map to find the Ivy TV outlet.

Get a better package and people will watch and go to more games in person. The likes of Vanderbilt and Stanford would play Ivy teams in non-buy games because the contests would have TV broadcast visibility. They might even make a trip to Jadwin or The Palestra to play in home-and-homes.

Consider academic and athletic scholarships. This is not heretical. Why not reward supremely talented Ivy students and athletes along with, say, piano players with a scholarship like all other 350-some Division I schools do? It makes no sense not to. Ivies, you can afford it with your bloated $10 billion-plus endowments, and your athletics will jettison forward.

There is a strange Ivy antitrust exemption out there which Ivies use, in part as a defense to scholarships. It may soon be abrogated federally.

A few years back one Ivy men’s coach said, in essence, get me three basketball scholarships a year and I will bring you a top-20 program. Is that hyperbole? Maybe, but it is certainly possible. It’s been nearly a quarter-century since a men’s Ivy received a single-digit seed in the NCAA tourney.

Play the NIL game. The universities cannot technically be involved, but with a wink and a nod, they all are. There are well over 100 NIL collectives out there, but none at any Ivy. And I should know. I’m a consultant to a premier NIL company. I have met with three Ivies, and they have no interest in helping to facilitate by providing donor names. Yet they have very wealthy alumni and boosters, many of whom would gladly support their student-athletes financially. It would help to level the playing field in recruiting against non-Ivies.

And what about the arcane rule that does not permit an Ivy athlete to redshirt? What is the rationale, if any, for that? Why penalize a student-athlete who gets injured or want to graduate in five years? That makes no sense.

Make some of the above changes and you will most importantly give the Ivy student-athlete a better experience and ultimately create a scenario where Ivy men’s and women’s basketball teams are players once again on the national stage.

Steve Silverman:

While I believe the state of Ivy League basketball is actually quite strong right now, it might make sense for the league to consider at least one modest reform and one radical change. 

The modest reform would be to open the postseason tournament to every program in place of the current format, which only allows the top four teams (based on conference standings) to compete.  I have attended two Ivy League tournaments in person so far (2017 and 2022), and the level of fan enthusiasm at both events was very high. But opening the tournament to every team would raise the level of enthusiasm across the league even higher and would create more exposure for some of the traditionally less successful programs.  

The radical change I have in mind is conference expansion. The Ivy League’s composition hasn’t changed since it was formed in 1954 as an athletic affiliation of eight private schools located in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. While the stability of the Ivy League is refreshing amid the turmoil swirling throughout the power conferences, it would be prudent for the league to at least study the idea of expansion. Candidate schools for expansion could include some or all of the major military academies, any of the Patriot League schools, and perhaps even a school or two outside the Eastern time zone, such as Rice.  Georgetown would be a natural fit for the Ivy League, although I doubt the Hoyas would be willing to give up on their (fading) ambition to remain a power player in college basketball. Traditions die hard in the Ivy League, but bringing in some fresh blood could expand the conference’s exposure and fortify the league’s place in a changing intercollegiate athletics landscape.

7 thoughts on “What should Ivy League basketball do next?”

  1. Richard Kent,
    Correction: Princeton women were a #8 seed in the 2015 NCAA Basketball Tournament; they beat #9 seed Wisconsin-Green Bay in the first round.

  2. the NIL game is likely sufficient for now if as noted it is formalized
    Ivy athletes typically give back a lot at places like yale or so I have heard from the development team
    I suppose the aforementioned Joe tsai lacrosse facility is illustrative of what cld be
    But taxes aside it and generous financial aid programs wld be nice step

  3. I agree that the redshirt rule must be changed—it’s archaic. I have mixed feelings about athletic scholarships, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I like the 4-team Ivy tournament, which puts sufficient reward on regular season play. Do you seriously think fans of a 2-12 team are going to turn out to see their team play in the Ivy tournament?

    As for league expansion, that isn’t happening. The Ivy brand is the most valuable brand in the world for any “product,” and the presidents and trustees of the member institutions are going to zealously protect that brand from dilution, even from other “name brand” schools.

  4. Ivy NIL collectives have the potential to offer more for student-athletes than majority of Power 5 collectives…

    The need for merit (not just athletic) scholarships is much less if Fortune 500 exec alumni (from ALL 8 IVIES) are given a platform to support their alma maters’ programs.

    Alums and supporters: PLEASE take a leap and get collectives off the ground. Could elevate status of Ivy to near-Power 5-level…even WITHOUT scholarship $.

  5. I guess that I am the rare one here who doesn’t see a problem. I don’t see any reason that the Ivies should wander into the swamp of the big $ sports of football and basketball. Our football programs are entertaining and competitive and the coaching is exceptional. The league even manages to produce a few NFL prospects each year. Any 4 or 5* recruits with professional ambitions are going to have so much $ and attention thrown at them elsewhere as well as being hindered by the academic time demands of the Ivies that they will see little benefit in attending any of our schools. Same for basketball. No way any Ivy competes nationally in either of these sports without major academic sacrifices, athletic scholarships and segregation from the general student population. The Presidents and Trustees would not stand for such changes and I support them 100%.
    As for the rest of Ivy sports, we do just fine IMHO. Sports in the Ivies are extracurriculars and subordinate to the principal purpose of our members which is education. There is a reason that all of our members are among the top 20 universities in the land.

  6. NIL is a no-brainer here, and it needn’t be wink-wink recruiting, either. Just a commitment that any player who matriculates to the school will be hooked up to the best opportunities available, compatible with the demands of being a student and a DI basketball player. (The conference could also pioneer doing its own collective NIL marketing and then distributing the proceeds to the players.)

    Contrary to one suggestion above, the Ivy Tourney should be ditched altogether. There isn’t any point in making the league more like the other bottom-feeders with low-attendance, low-rating tournaments played at inconvenient times and places to placate ESPN. The Ivies should lean into being distinctive, for strategic if not idealistic reasons. The existing tournament has already diverted scarce attention away from the best teams in the league during the season, instead drawing the focus to the mediocre ones, not exactly putting one’s best foot forward from a fan and marketing point of view. Authentic playoffs in the event of regular-season ties are very exciting; the ersatz tournament is more like a trip to the dentist where we all have to hope that the only team with a shot at a decent seed doesn’t get waylaid by some of the horrible officiating the league routinely rolls out there.

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