Ever since Brown was defeated by Villanova in the very first NCAA tournament in 1939, an Ivy League team has been represented in the prestigious event every year. Although the tournament has grown from just eight teams in its first year, to 68 this year, the winner of the Ancient Eight has always received a bid. The Ivy League is the only conference in the entire country that does not have its own tournament at the end of the season to decide who it will send to the NCAA tournament. However, according to sources from the Harvard Crimson, that timeless method of choosing the Ivy winner may be about to change.
The Crimson reported on Friday that, according to Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris, Ivy League coaches are preparing a proposal for a four-team, two-round tournament at the end of conference play, which would include the Top-4 finishers from the regular season standings. The winner after the two rounds would represent the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament. According to head coach Bill Courtney, the proposal is still a process.
“It’s still early; there has to be a couple different steps in order for it to happen,” he said. “It’s got to go to the [Athletic Director], then go to a committee … So there’s still several more steps before it can possibly become a reality.”
Part of the proposal includes the removal of one game from the team’s’ non-conference schedule, in order to avoid additional missed class time for the players. The Ivy schedule, which right now consists of 14 games with each team facing off twice, would remain unchanged.
As the last man standing in a world of college basketball, where tournament bids are often decided on late-season momentum, it is widely believed that the Ivy League has done the right thing all these years by sending its top finisher to the tournament. However, as the competitiveness of the Ivy League continues to grow each year, coaches in the conference are beginning to change their minds, according to Courtney.
“I know all the coaches in the league would like it to happen,” he said.
One fear of the new proposal would be that the best team in the Ivy League would not be represented at the tournament. This year, Harvard got the conference bid — eventually falling to No. 5 Vanderbilt in the first round — but the top teams in the league were all so similar in talent that any team could have come out on top in an end of season tournament.
“One way you look at it is, the way it’s done now is that you really get the team that’s been the best all year into the [NCAA] tournament,” Courtney said. “But at the same time, when you talk about postseason berths and the opportunity to maybe send two teams to the NCAA tournament, or even the NIT, this new way helps.”
Additionally, even if the top-finisher in the regular season Ivy League standings does not win the tournament, that team would receive an automatic bid to the NIT tournament, according to NCAA regulations.
The coaches’ proposal would pave the way for teams, like the Red, who had slow starts to the season, to make a run in the Ivy tournament.
“It’s easy to say that we’ve been right around the middle of the pack, but we don’t want to have to say that a tournament would bale us out,” said junior guard Johnathan Gray. “We’re a top team in the Ivy League and we just have to show it.”
The Red defeated top teams Princeton and Yale in the regular season, and only lost to Harvard by four in the final game of the season, proving its worth as a team that could have made a run in a potential Ivy tournament.
Courtney, though, does not believe that the change would alter his team’s approach at the beginning of the season.
“I think as a coach you’re always trying to come out and improve throughout the year, so I don’t think you hide anything,” he said. “I think you just play and try to be in the tournament.”
The idea would also potentially benefit teams who are ruled out of first-place contention midway through the season.
“As much as you don’t want to say it, I feel this would entice teams to put a tremendous amount of effort into games that now actually mean something,” Gray said. “It increases the overall competitiveness of the league when teams have more to play for.”
Despite Cornell’s run to the Sweet Sixteen two years ago, and Harvard’s Top-25 ranking this season, the Ivy League is still not given its due respect on the national college basketball level. The change would not only make the already improving league more competitive, it would also gain some much-needed exposure for a conference that often flies under the radar.
“I really like the idea, I feel like it would be good for the league to get more exposure,” Gray said. “It would attract more fans and give more intense vibes to the games.”
“If we can get on national TV, we can show the quality of our product and we can also galvanize the fan bases for the tournament,” Courtney added.
Though the proposal is not finalized yet, the thought itself holds promise for a new age of Ivy League basketball.
“The conference tournament will promote the Ivy League brand of basketball and show people that the league is really becoming a force to be reckoned with in college basketball,” Courtney said.