They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but for the first time in the 64-year history of the Ivy League, the conference is changing things up. The League’s Council of Presidents approved a four-team conference tournament in men’s and women’s basketball with the winner earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Basketball tournaments, according to a conference press release. Prior to the announcement, The Ivy League was the only Division I conference to not have a postseason tournament.
“It’s great to give the student-athletes that experience, something to play for and fight for at the end of the year, even if you’re not in first place,” said Cornell men’s basketball head coach Bill Courtney. “It gives you something to strive for and it adds so much excitement for the Ivy League to have a tournament and bring all the universities together in one place.”
The tournament will be implemented beginning next season, 2016-17, and will take place on March 11 and 12, 2017 at The Palestra in Philadelphia, Penn’s home court.
“The presidents adopted the proposal to establish men’s and women’s basketball tournaments after thoughtful discussions and careful review of the thorough information provided by our athletics directors and head coaches,” said Pete Salovey, Yale president and chair of the council, in the release. “Ultimately, this decision was based on enhancing the overall experience for our basketball student-athletes, while also paying attention to time demands by shortening the regular season.”
One distinction, however, is that the team that finishes with the best record in the conference at the end of the regular season will continue to be recognized as the Ivy League champions.
“The structure of our basketball tournaments is consistent with our model of college athletics and the format allows us to preserve the significance of the regular season,” said Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris in the release. “Most importantly, this creates a landmark event during March Madness for our basketball student-athletes to anticipate while they are in school and to cherish throughout their lives after graduation.”
Courtney said he disagreed with the common concerns that the tournament reduces the importance of regular season games.
“You still have to get into the top 4,” Courtney said. “I don’t think it diminishes [the regular season] at all. College basketball is such a great regular season sport anyway, I don’t think that anything, besides the NFL, you have such importance on regular season games.”
Harris noted that momentum for the tournaments had been building since before her seven-year tenure with the Ivy League. There had been several movements to add in a tournament but none gained much traction until Fall 2014 when the athletic directors of the eight Ivy schools met to create a “working group” comprised of athletic directors and head basketball coaches, according to Harris.
This group was critical in creating a format that was fair to each university and preserved the amateurism of Ivy League basketball.
Last season, the Bulldogs and the Crimson tied in the regular season and then squared off with a bid to March Madness on the line. Harris said that the success of that game made the conference feel as though a tournament should be made a reality. Harris called the environment “fabulous,” and noted that even though it was a neutral site, there was still a “packed house.” She also said The Palestra makes the most sense for the first ever tournament, calling it “venerable and iconic.”
Beyond 2016-17, no decision has been made as to at which university the tournament will be held, or even if the tournament will occur at one of the eight Ivy schools.