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Monday, March 06, 2017

So What Does the Ivy League Regular Season Champion Get for Winning the Regular Season?

I don't know whether I am in favor of post-season college basketball tournaments.  There is no denying that they are exciting, and everyone loves a seasonal Cinderella story.  There is also no denying that some under-.500 hot team could get into the tournament after going on a run, only to get unmasked in the first round.  It's different, of course, for a low- or mid-major as opposed to a power conference.  The reason -- the regular-season champion from a power conference usually will get into the tournament even if it were to bow out in the first round.  The mid- or low-major regular-season champion that loses in the tournament -- whatever the round -- risks not getting into the NCAA tournament. 

The inaugural Ivy tournament should be exciting.  You have regular-season champion Princeton, defending champion Yale, Harvard with its top-12 freshman class and perennial power Penn.  That's a good group.  But I posit this question:  shouldn't the regular-season champion -- an undefeated champion at that -- get some benefit from having won the regular-season title?  Holding the tournament is fine and perhaps long overdue -- but no bye, no home-court advantage, no well, to risk a double negative that is abhorrent to Ivy grammarians -- no . . . nothing?

Atop that, regular-season champion Princeton has to play Penn -- on Penn's home court.  And, atop that, Penn is Princeton's arch-rival.  You don't have to be a sports savant that special things can happen in arch-rivalries, regardless of who had the better season.  I know, I know, if Princeton's that good and worthy of the title it should wipe the floor with Penn.  But many experts argue that it is tough to beat the same team three times in one season.

Still, I think the Ivies would have been better off giving the top two seeds some benefit for their outstanding season -- such as a home game.  In this fashion, Saturday's games might have become games on Thursday or Friday (also giving teams more than the current 24 hours they will have to rest before their conference finals) at the home court of the #1 and #2 seeds.  That would have meant that Princeton would play Penn in Princeton and Harvard would play Yale in Cambridge.  The winners would play on a pre-selected neutral floor -- perhaps Lehigh or Lafayette or Brown -- to determine the title. 

Take a look at the ECAC hockey playoffs, where seemingly you get in if you showed up for the regular season.  According to a friend who is an expert, the first four teams get a bye and then numbers 6 through 12 play a three-game playoff -- with each game played at the site of the higher seed.  Each game, mind you!  That shows that the regular season actually meant something more than just a high seed.

The current format seems flawed, especially if Penn improves and is a perennial #1 or #2 seed.  I'm not sure that the rest of the Ivies will agree to let them have one or two home games every year to determine who goes to the NCAA tournament.  Yes, the Palestra is one mighty special place and a great place to play and watch basketball -- one of the best ever.  But that doesn't mean that historic places and monuments should trump neutrality or giving the regular-season championship some type of reward for winning the regular season.  The bet here -- the location will change.

In the meantime, you have an undefeated team (great accomplishment in its own right, but especially noteworthy since it lost two starters at the season's outset), young team, defending champion and a pretty hot and young team.  Great recipe for great theatre come Saturday and Sunday. 


Blogger Phil L said...


I'm right with you on this one. I know squat about college hoops but love college football. Already the clamour is for the playoff to expand to eight teams. College hoops shows where that takes you: the regular season becomes nothing more than a qualification exercise.

If you know you've made the playoff, why not sit your star runner or dual-threat quarterback for that final game? So what if it's the Iron Bowl or SEC championship game? You've got bigger fish to fry.

Already bowl games outside the playoff are starting to be perceived to be little more than exhibition matchups. What future Leonard Fournette or Christian McCaffrey would risk their pro future in a bowl game outside that 'Elite Eight' tournament?


5:12 AM  

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