While watching the Harvard-Vanderbilt March Madness opening round game last week, my brother was fairly horrified to hear me rooting for the Commodores.
“What happened to ‘Ivy wide, Ivy Pride?’” he asked, repeating a slogan he’d heard on TV.
“No. Harvard cannot win,” I told him, even though I couldn’t quite articulate why.
His question did make me realize, though, that most people tend to root on other schools in their conferences when their own school is out of the competition. My friend Matt, a 2011 graduate of Villanova told me, “I personally root for Big East schools versus others for the idea of more exposure and recognition.”
Similarly, my friend Victoria, who graduated last year from Oregon said, “I think when a Pac-12 team is in a big game where it represents the conference well, I would root for them.”
So why couldn’t I cheer on Harvard? A win from them would only help legitimize the Ivy League as a mid-major. But I wasn’t the only one hoping the victory would go to what the press called “The Harvard of the South”; my newsfeed was full of anti-Harvard talk from fellow Cornell alums.
Maybe the lack of Crimson love is because the Ivy League will likely always be a one-bid conference. Although Harvard and Princeton went head-to-head last year, after a play-off game, only Princeton made the tournament. This year, Penn is playing in the CBI despite nearly taking the crown from the Crimson. An Ivy team can be extraordinary, but if it doesn’t come out ahead, its March Madness chances are pretty much shot. On the other hand, if a school like Villanova fails to go dancing, they pretty much only have their selves to blame for falling behind nine other schools in their conference.
It could also be a matter of competition. Most Ivy League students applied or considered applying to at least a few other Ivies. But your average Syracuse student may not have considered going to Cincinnati, and most Vanderbilt kids probably didn’t apply to Arkansas.
Or maybe I just couldn’t muster any love for Harvard because during my time at Cornell, they were one of our biggest athletic rivals. As my friend and fellow 2010 classmate Liz put it, “I'd root for any [Ivy] except for Penn and Harvard unless Cornell directly is playing them … because they are our biggest rivals across all sports.”
My friend Claudia, a Duke alumna, told me that with the Blue Devils out of the tournament, she’ll cheer on the other ACC schools — with one exception. “I generally feel that if we lost, hopefully UNC won’t do well either. It isn’t a great attitude, but such is the Duke-UNC rivalry. And I think the worse we do, the worse I want UNC to do.”
By this logic, if Yale or Brown make the tournament next year, it’s possible I’d find myself rooting for them. But hopefully I’ll never have to find out. Go Big Red!