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Friday, March 11, 2016

Idiocy from the Ivy League

The Ivy League announced yesterday that it was joining the 21st century in men's and women's college basketball by ending its holdout and creating a post-season basketball tournament.  With typical "Ivy League" flair, they chose to be different.  They will not include every school in the post-season tournament, just the top four.  To top it off, they have anointed Penn's iconic Palestra as the host site for the first tournament, potentially giving the Quakers a huge home-court advantage if they were to finish in the top four in the league next season (and with the crop of this year's freshmen that I saw on Tuesday night in Princeton, they should have a good shot).  But the latter point is not the point I'm trying to make -- the tournament has to be hosted somewhere, it's great that it will start at Penn, and, presumably, will shift to other venues.

What's silly about this is that the Ivy League season as currently constituted means something.  It means that these kids have to go out there and play on back-to-back nights seven times and earn their championship through superlative play during the regular season.  It means avoiding trap games, say, the night after you beat Harvard in Cambridge and then need to avoid losing to currently an inferior Dartmouth squad.  It means holding your own against Penn and Princeton on back-to-back nights.  It means taking care of business during the regular season.  It posits certain games -- such as this year's Princeton-Yale game in Princeton a few weeks ago -- as playoff-like contests.  That's exciting. 

Most conferences have their tournaments to generate funds to help the schools and the conference pay for their programs (and let's remember that many DI athletic programs do not make money).  The Ivies have huge endowments.  The Ivies also can offer tremendous aid packages that make their schools more accessible probably than any time in history.  And if you don't think that the Ivies are flush with cash (and do not have a seemingly never-ending stream of funds available through loyal, wealthy, nostalgic alumni), then you have not been to an Ivy campus lately and seen construction or renovation projects.  So, if money is not the reason, then what is?

Because everyone else is doing it?  That's a terrible reason.  That's the type of reason that gets people into trouble.

Because the regular season is too taxing and doesn't always yield the best team for the tournament?  The evidence does not support that.  Terrific Ivy teams have won their regular seasons and gone on to distinguish themselves in the post-season. 

Because it is change and change is good?  A fundamental rule about making changes is that you should be sure that you have a problem to solve in the first place and that the change will be better.  The Ivies have not made the case for this change.

Because the money will help?  See the argument above.  That's a non-starter.

Because the tournaments will give the Ivies more exposure and more drama and that should be good for the leagues?  Remember, this is the Ivy League.  These schools generate enough exposure daily just by being who they are and waking up in the morning.  They really need more exposure? 

For such smart folks, they possible focus on cents just doesn't make any sense.  Perhaps the Ivy League is bored.  Perhaps the Ivy League figured it needed to make a splash with basketball given that they just made one with football (not about permitting the league champion to participating in the post-season, mind you, but eliminating tackling in practice).  What's next -- that they'll come up with all sorts of rules to protect hitters and position players in baseball? 

So much for the Ivies' regular season.  Finish in the top four, pay your money, take your chances.  Win two games in March, and you'll go dancing.  Perhaps you'll even get a fifteen-second spot on the following morning's Sports Center heralding your team's dramatic win as a #3 seed.   Hurrah!

The Ivies had a good thing.  Too bad they had to go commercial with it.


Anonymous George Clark said...

Ours were voices in the wilderness, sportsprof. This tournament proposal came up annually, it seemed, for many years, but was always rejected. Why? For the precise reasons you catalog in this post. The League's announcement contained no rationale beyond the platitudes you might have expected. But, I admit, as a retiree with lots of time on my hands I am looking forward to the tourney weekend in Philadelphia. I attended Tuesday's rivalry game at Jadwin, a lucky escape for the Tigers. Penn starts next year miles ahead of where they were early this season. The battle to get into the first division may be quite a scramble. The winner of the regular season title will be far from assured of an easy path to the NCAA tournament. How about a Penn-Princeton doubleheader in the finals? Far more stranger things have happened....

9:38 AM  
Anonymous EK PU '89 said...

Yup, they've opted for stupidity. This has always been a terrible idea. Weak conferences who usually only send one team to the NCAA tournament should always send their best team, in order to maximize the likelihood of tournament success and protect the automatic bid.

Assigning the automatic bid to conference tournament winners makes sense for stronger conferences that receive multiple bids. Mid-majors might squeeze another team in when there is a major conference tournament upset; but the Ivy League is not a mid-major conference. And by eliminating a non-conference game from each team's schedule to accommodate the tournament, Ivy teams likely will have even weaker RPIs. Idiocy.

The Ivies are relatively strong right now, but that's cyclical. When -- not if -- the Ivies are weak again, this decision will backfire. And what about the student-athletes? More games = more travel = less time for studying. The Palestra is a fabulous place to watch basketball (and a decided home court advantage), but that's a long road trip for more than half the League.

So much for meaningful regular season games...

10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me ask you this. How much fun is it to work on your game from the end of one season until the next, then drop your first two conference games and essentially have nothing but pride to play for the rest of the season? Jockeying for seeding in a conference tournament makes the rest of the season meaningful and the conference tourney itself is fun for the players. Isn't that what it's supposed to be about?

6:30 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

This means that the regular season means less, not very little (that would be so if all teams made the post-season tournament), but less. Sure, it might mean that an injury-bitten team can recover at full strength and take the title, or it could mean that a #4 seed with six regular-season losses somehow gets hot and wins two games for whatever reason. Could it add excitement? Yes. Does it make sense, no. But then again, I'm someone who can tend toward arguing that the Ivies way over-emphasize athletics and should go Division III, because they can strain to admit kids who won't necessarily appreciate all that these institutions have to offer save their teams and teammates. But I digress. . . Then again, about 20+ years ago I think that Penn dallied with joining the ACC if they could get another Ivy to go with them.

11:57 AM  
Anonymous EK PU '89 said...

I find it incredible that the team that earns the regular season crown gets exactly NO benefit or advantage in the conference tournament (unless that team is Penn). Why not reward the regular season champions with the privilege of hosting the tournament and benefiting from a home court advantage?

9:30 AM  

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