November 8, 2001

Bring Back the Tournaments

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Back in my elementary school days, I played basketball in a church league. At the beginning of the season everyone had to tryout, was ranked based on skill and tossed into a draft which was held in a dark room with a chalk board grid for writing in selections.

You may wonder why a draft would be necessary for fifth and sixth graders.

My dad was in charge of the league for several years, so I had inside information on the drafting process. One season, my dad put my sister and her friends on one team, despite the fact that this group of girls had some of the best players in the league. That year, her team had the best unofficial record. I say unofficial because the church did not want to promote overt competition, but the players always kept tabs and compared their wins and losses to other teams.

To close out the end of the season, we had a banquet with pizza, balloons, and a souvenir cup or foam basketball. A piece of plastic was our reward for a season well done, and the team with a goose egg under the loss column got the same token as the team with a goose egg in the win column. Of course, a tournament was unheard of — it would generate evil thoughts of competition and formally answer the question of who’s better than whom.

I will admit, when I was on a terrible team, it was nice ending the year as an equal to the team I wished I was on. But the years when my team had a chance at beating everyone in the league, I wanted a tournament that would give me a shot at securing gloating rights and a little silver disc hanging around my neck until next season.

But that was long ago.

In the Ivy League, there is no draft. You can try to recruit players, but without the lure of scholarships and, with the exception of a few teams on campus, the possibility of a national championship, you pretty much get who you get. There is no equalization of skill-level among the eight teams, but most importantly, everyone is striving for the headpiece that will crown her as the Ivy’s best.

In high school, the highest honor a team can garner is the state championship. While this distinction is too lofty for most teams to base their season on, the ones that have a chance to be the greatest rely on a tournament to guide them to the top of that podium. If a team ever reaches this pinnacle, it can unreservedly say it beat the best and is the best.

When I came to Cornell, I assumed that the tournament format would continue as the sole indicator of top dog. Considering the publicity that the NCAA Final-Four receives, I thought that the Ivy League would hold a tournament to determine who was conference champion and who would collect a bid and move on to face opponents outside of the Ancient Eight.

But, I was wrong.

Apparently, the athletic directors of our fellow institutions think that tournaments are too costly and require too much effort to organize, so slowly, they have been eliminating these season ending battles.

The most recent victim of this eradication was volleyball. Last year, all eight teams converged at Harvard’s Malkin Athletic Center to compete in the final volleyball tournament for an unspecified number of years. As a reporter for the Red’s squad, I traveled to Boston to watch Cornell make its run at the Ivy Crown. Boy, was I glad I went.

I saw our team mow down Brown and offensive giant Penn to reach the finals against defending-title holder Princeton. It was a match-up unlike any other. The Red was coming off a season in which it patrolled the cellar of the league, and could go from worst-to-first with a win. In the stands, I sat with parents of the Red women, biting our nails and cheering until or voices were no louder than peeps.

When the match reached the fifth game, it felt like game seven of the World Series. The crowd could not have been louder, the tension no tighter, the anticipation no higher. I was a part of the team in that final round, and that is a feeling that can only be sensed in a tournament.

I decided to cover volleyball again this year. With the abolishment of the tournament, the Ivy champ will be determined from regular season records, making every match important. The league decided to double the amount of conference matches each team plays to compensate for the termination.

Doubling the number of games is great, as I always question the purpose of playing numerous squads outside the league if the matches don’t count towards anything, but, ultimately, getting rid of the tournament was a crippling blow to school spirit and loyalty.

Imagine if volleyball, football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s lacrosse all had season ending tournaments. This would mean that eight Ivy tournaments would be held during the year that could each be held at a different school. With enough publicity, students would flock to a lacrosse or basketball tournament, especially considering the fact that most of our teams are competitive with the other Ivies.

As evidenced most explicitly with the Seattle Mariners, a stellar regular season record doesn’t guarantee you anything more than a slot in the postseason. This fact, combined with the relatively equal abilities of all the teams, means virtually anyone has a chance at taking home the trophy. This opportunity for greatness, available to any team that has the motivation to seize it, has the potential to draw huge crowds.

As a fan, the excitement of regular season games can never parallel that of the championship match. Sadly, we have fewer and fewer opportunities these days to cheer on our Red in the final game of a tournament and experience the feeling unique to that atmosphere.

We, as Cornell sports participants and fans, are not in elementary school. We do not need to be sheltered from the many emotions of competition. Let us have our tournaments back and we will reward you, athletic directors, with dedication and spirit, unseen from the sidelines of courts and fields, throughout our time here and beyond.

Archived article by Katherine Granish