February 28, 2007

One Step Closer to a Tournament

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For men’s and women’s basketball players in the Ivy League, the only way it has been possible to participate in a postseason conference tournament has been to turn on the TV or sit in the stands and watch as their peers in every other Division I conference in the country compete for titles and bids to the NCAA championship tournament.

All that could change, however, as the Ivy League’s athletics directors have taken the first step towards creating a proposal for a postseason tournament in the Ancient Eight.

“There has been no decision by the ADs that said they would want a tournament, just a willingness to explore to see if there is a model that would work,” said Jeff Orleans, the executive director of the Council of Ivy Group Presidents. “And if we want to do that more than what we do currently.”

A subcommittee consisting of four athletics directors from member schools has been charged with the task of formulating a proposal for how such a tournament would work. Steve Bilsky of Penn, Thomas A. Beckett of Yale, Josie Harper of Dartmouth and Dr. M. Dianne Murphy of Columbia will consider a range of issues including scheduling, game sites and team seedings. Any resulting proposal will be presented to the league’s athletics directors at a meeting in May.

“It is the first step in seeing if there is a feasible model and if people will want to use that model,” Orleans said. “It is a tangible step, but much more in the realm of seeing what we might do rather than saying what we will do.”

Any plan that meets with approval from the Ancient Eight’s Athletics Directors will then have to pass through the Policy Committee before being put before the Council of Ivy Group Presidents. The Policy Committee consists of one senior non-athletic administrator from each member school, and Orleans described its function as an “interpretive” liaison between the athletics directors and the presidents of the Ivy League.

“It is really much too early for the president, or for that matter even Policy Committee members … to opine on the idea of the tournament because we do not know the nature or extent of the proposal the [Athletics Directors] are considering,” said Susan Murphy, the vice president for student and academic services and Cornell’s representative on the Policy Committee, in an e-mail.

If the athletics directors and the Policy Committee approve the proposal, six of the eight Ivy League presidents would need to vote in its favor before it could be implemented.

While Orleans cautioned that the recent development was akin to taking a few steps toward first base in a baseball game, it was enough to spark optimism among Ivy League coaches. In a Feb. 19 article by Pete Thamel in The New York Times, Brown head coach Craig Robinson was quoted as saying that a postseason tournament was “closer than I had ever imagined it.”

This sparked a follow-up column by Seth Davis on SI.com which painted an optimistic picture.

“I think the characterization of what I said [on SI.com] made it sound more advanced than is the case,” Orleans said. “This is a very nitty gritty, how do you make it work, kind of discussion.”

Currently, the Ivy League is the only one of 31 Division I athletic conferences that does not hold a postseason tournament to determine which team in its league will earn a bid to the NCAA championship tournament. The Ancient Eight also stands alone as the only con ference which does not benefit from recent rule changes in the NIT extending a bid to that tournament to every league’s regular-season champion. Because the Ivy League’s regular season champion automatically earns a bid to the NCAAs, there is no Ivy squad in the NIT.

However, any changes in how the Ivy League will determine which schools will represent the conference in national postseason play are still a long way off from being realized, according to Murphy.

“At this stage, all that is happening is an examination of various tournament models to see if even [the Athletic Directors] could agree on one they would wish to advance,” she wrote in an email. “Should that be the case, then issues of timing, costs, impact on academic obligations, etc., would need to be addressed along with any philosophic issues related to round robin competition vis a vis tournament results.”

Cornell reaction

For the majority of the Cornell basketball community, hearing that the Ivy League might be moving closer to a postseason tournament was welcome news.

“I’m thrilled it’s something that [the Athletics Directors] are reconsidering,” said women’s basketball head coach Dayna Smith. “I think it’s a huge step in the right direction.”

Both Smith and men’s basketball head coach Steve Donahue said that their colleagues around the league had been in support of a postseason tournament for a long time. Donahue hopes that the conference will at least get a chance to see what a tournament feels like.

“I’d love the opportunity to test it for at least one year and see how everyone feels about it,” Donahue said. “It would bring everyone together — the fans, the student-athletes, the administrators.”

Both coaches pointed out that it would be a great experience for their student-athletes regardless of the results they earned in league play or in a hypothetical tournament.

“When I was an assistant at Penn, we were 14-0 [in the league], and I still would have liked to have a tournament,” Smith said. “It’s so unique. … It would have been fun.”

While Donahue and Smith reported consensus among the Ivy League coaches, two of the tri-captains for the men’s team represented the difference of opinion on the matter.

“I’d like to do it,” said senior Andrew Naeve. “I think it would add a great mix because it would make a great variety in the teams that get in, rather than one team getting in every year.

“I personally like the setup we have,” said senior Graham Dow. “We’re the only league in the country that doesn’t have a tournament and we base our champion on the team that’s been the best all year long. Whether or not that’s us, it’s representative of who the best team is, I think.”