Reporter’s Notebook: Ivy Madness day one

A great eight greets fans at the 120th Street entrance (photo: Rob Browne)

NEW YORK – Welcome to Ivy Madness VI!

For the first time, the Ivy League Tournament visits New York City, home to the largest collection of Ancient Eight alumni and Levien Gymnasium. The 2,700-seat arena, situated on the heart of the Columbia campus, is the fourth smallest venue in the conference and fans are right on top of the action.

When packed, which it often has been for the 2023 and 2024 regular season championship women’s team, it can get incredibly loud and cause problems for opposing players. Fortunately for league, fans and ESPN, Levien will be packed. As of Thursday evening, the Saturday women’s final is sold out, as well as the Saturday men’s semifinals and Sunday men’s final.

There are a small number of tickets remaining for the second women’s semifinal, featuring No. 2 Columbia and No. 3 Harvard, as well as a larger number of tickets for the opening game, which pits No. 1 Princeton against long-time rival No. 4 Penn.

Over the next several days, Ivy Hoops Online will be in Morningside Heights (and watching the world-wide leader) to bring you all the action. With lots of great coverage from George Clark, Steve Silverman, Palestra Pete and Richard Kent, I’ll be around to fill in the spaces and scarf down as many snacks as possible.

Before I focus on Day 1, here are some interesting league items that happened since the end of the regular season:
* The Boston Globe reported that players from the Dartmouth men’s and women’s basketball teams reached out to MLB Players Association (MLBPA) Executive Director Tony Clark prior to the men’s team voting to unionize on March 5. While the Big Green team joined a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, the article notes that unions that represent professional athletes, like the MLBPA, could expand to help college athletes with things like improving facilities, exploring NIL income opportunities, mentorship programs, and representing the players in any disputes with their schools or the NCAA.
* Cornell women’s basketball moves on from long-time head coach Dayna Smith.
Tuesday – 
* The Athletic discusses the unique aspects of the Ivy League back-to-back weekends and the potential advantage it can provide in the NCAA Tournament. (With the longer conference schedule, the number of back-to-backs have been reduced over the last few years. Conference fans should cherish these weekends as much as possible, since there are rumors that the number could be reduced even more in the future.) 
* Ivy League Women’s Basketball Awards were announced with Columbia’s Abbey Hsu named Player of the Year, Princeton’s Ellie Mitchell selected Defensive Player of the Year for the third straight season, Penn’s Mataya Gayle chosen Rookie of the Year and Columbia’s Megan Griffith tabbed as Coach of the Year for the second time in a row. (I think the league got those picks right, but I’m curious how the choices sit with our passionate Princeton contingency)
* The Athletic profiled Abbey Hsu and the adversity she’s overcome to become one of the best Ivy League basketball players of all time. (I’ve been following Columbia women’s basketball for years, and Hsu since she arrived in the fall of 2019, and there was a lot of things that were eye opening to me).
* The Ivy League Men’s Basketball Awards were announced with Princeton’s Caden Pierce as Player of the Year, Yale’s Bez Mbeng as Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive year, Harvard’s Malik Mack named Rookie of the Year and Princeton’s Mitch Henderson named Coach of the Year for the first time since the Tigers’ undefeated conference season in 2016-2017.  (Like the women’s division, I think these are the right choices and I’m sure that these selections will sit well with our passionate Princeton contingency)
* The Washington Post published a feature on Malik Mack, the possibility that he could bolt the Crimson for a higher profile team that could offer him lots of NIL money (should we call it “pulling a Dingle”) and the Ivy League’s relationship to the NIL landscape. (Our own Richard Kent was interviewed for the article and the paper that extensively covered the Watergate scandal from 1972-1974 noted that he writes for “a website that extensively covers the conference.”) 

Now back to day one …

While the tournament is affectionately dubbed Ivy Madness, it tends to start off with a completely sane day and a half featuring the press conferences and shootarounds of all eight teams. As much as I enjoy the games, Thursday afternoon and Friday morning are great times to reconnect with campus and league staff that are incredibly helpful to us throughout the year, meet up with other writers and broadcasters who care about this conference, and learn more about the teams and the players.

Here are some random observations from my afternoon at Levien:

  • Spring may not arrive until next week, but we were all treated to an absolutely gorgeous day with temperatures reaching 70 degrees. There were lots of people sitting on the lawn and soaking up the sunshine, but those of us focused on the world of Ivy hoops decided to spend our precious time inside.
  • For all the national news of upheaval at Columbia over the last several months due to events in the Middle East, the campus was incredibly calm, and people seemed more focused on getting a tan. Perhaps things will be different when larger crowds arrive on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 
  • The media entrance had multiple “Do Not Enter, Authorized Personnel Only” signs on the front doors. It definitely made my ego swell that I suddenly realized I was actually authorized personnel.
  • The first person I saw was Kyle Mattracion, Columbia’s assistant director for athletics communication. There is no one better at his job than Kyle and he came out way on top in our informal afternoon Ivy writers’ poll. For the last several years, he and Griffith have held weekly media availabilities, which has helped the broadcasters and writers understand the program, coach and players. I know I say this every year, but I continue to hope that the other 15 teams follow their lead.
  • Heading down to the media room, I came upon a display of eight shirt-form mannequins (definitely a term I did not know before Thursday) which displayed each of the Ivy League programs. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the Cornell and Princeton mannequins were not there. I wondered if this was sending a message about conference realignment, but a Princeton jersey appeared a few hours later. Hopefully, Cornell brings an extra jersey to complete the set.

    A display case that a Penn fan can get behind (photo: Rob Browne)


  • Five of the Ivies have arenas that hold less than 3,000 fans, and this is the third member of that group to host an Ivy tournament. No matter how small the footprint, the conference and host staff continue to do an excellent job for the teams, fans, reporters and broadcasters.  With that noted, I’m sure everyone involved will be happy to have the larger space at Cornell in 2026.
    (Speaking of Cornell in 2026 and Dartmouth in 2027, I’m looking forward to them, but I have heard a fair share of fans and writers upset at the transportation issues.  Perhaps the Ivy League can look into shuttle buses to get people to Ithaca and Hanover from the metropolitan areas of the conference …)
  • I passed a sign with the words “Media Workroom/Hospitality” and “Band/Cheerleader Area.” No bands or cheerleaders were in sight on Thursday, but I am pretty certain they will be here on Friday. I’m guessing it’s going to get awfully crowded and loud in that area. Better bring my mask and earplugs, just in case.
  • The only non-student reporters on Thursday were me, Jenn Hatfield of The Next Hoops and Basketball Hall of Famer Mel Greenberg. On the student side were several members of the Columbia Spectator, as well as Columbia School of Journalism student (and former NYU forward) Jasmin Matthews for the Columbia and Harvard press conferences. While it was great to have everyone, we really should have had more reporters there. The absence of reporters from the NY/NJ media covering the Lions and Tigers, as well as The Crimson, The Daily Pennsylvanian and The Daily Princetonian was really noticeable.  There should be more attention (dare I say respect?) for people in the seventh-best conference in the nation, and an underdog league that is again trying to get two bids to the NCAA Tournament.
  • Another great year of Live from Ivy Madness by Lance Medow and Maren Walseth. Four hours of wall-to-wall Ivy League coverage. Very impressive.
  • Spent time discussing the tournament with ESPN+ game analyst Christy Thomaskutty and play-by-play announcer Eric Frede. Two incredibly knowledgeable pros, who really know the four teams playing this weekend. Folks who can’t make it to Levien will be in good hands.
  • It felt like there were more fans watching the shootarounds than previous Ivy tournaments. It’s certainly possible given the young families in the neighborhood, the large number of alumni in New York City and the passion the Columbia community has for their Lions.
  • The tag line Big City, Bright Lights above the top of the arena is quite amusing, as are the subway-style signs announcing the four seminal matchups on the outside of Levien.

    A motto to make McInerney Jay proud (photo: Rob Browne)


  • The majority of the media will be stationed at the top of the gymnasium. It’s certainly understandable given the available space, but the sight lines are a big funky.  There is a dip to the ceiling, so people in the heights will have part of the roof in their view. Also, a number of the spots have a column in the way.  (Note to self – be as nice as possible to people, so you don’t end up with seats 18, 19, 20 or 22. No. 20 is the timeout chair of the Ivy tournament, since it has the drop-down ceiling, a column and wires).  

    I have a funny feeling this will be my vantage point for all six contests (photo: Rob Browne)

    That’s it for Day one. Time to catch a few hours of sleep before the 10 a.m. men’s press conferences begin.

2 thoughts on “Reporter’s Notebook: Ivy Madness day one”

  1. You have outdone yourself, my friend. My comments regarding the Ivy Awards are mostly complementary. I believe Carla Berube should be COY, but Griffith has surely done a wonderful job building a program for the long haul. I do not understand how the DPOY is not on the first team All Ivy. She is the best defensive player on the, far and away, league’s best defensive team. My congratulations to all the honorees, women and men
    Have fun, Rob. Keep the info coming!

  2. CRY ME A RIVER about people wondering however they will get to Ithaca and Hanover two and three years from now. Cornell and Dartmouth aren’t, like, in the Arctic Circle. Carpool! Take buses or planes! You can do it—I believe in you, you whiny whiners.

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