Plagued by a 1–3 start to its conference season, the men’s basketball team spent the rest of the year fighting an uphill battle towardsIvy League title contention. Although the team caught fire and won seven of their next 10 games, by midway through the season the Elis had lost out on a chance to receive the Ancient Eight’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament because the Ivy League sends its regular season champion.
Of the 31 Division I conferences that receive an automatic bid to the tournament, only the Ivy League awards that bid to its regular season champion. The other 30 determine the recipient of their automatic bids with postseason conference tournaments. Although many coaches and players in the Ancient Eight strongly support the addition of a conference tournament, no plan will be implemented in the near future. Last year, the athletic directors of the Ivy League denied a proposal from the conference’s head coaches to introduce a postseason tournament among the top four teams from the regular season standings.
“After careful consideration of these proposals, the athletics directors decided that our current method of determining the Ivy League Champion and our automatic bid recipient to the NCAA Championship is the best model moving forward,” Robin Harris, the Ivy League executive director, said in a statement released last year. “The current format awards the automatic bid to the team with the best record in the 14-game Ivy League season.”
Captain Sam Martin ’13, who just completed his final season in a Bulldogs uniform, said that he had been opposed to the idea of a conference tournament until this season.
“If you have a tournament at the end of the year and you have one fluke game, then a team’s whole body of work doesn’t matter, and I always thought that was unfair,” Martin said.
But this year, the Elis caught fire at the end of the season, knocking Princeton out of a first-place tie with Harvard a week after the Tigers topped the Crimson.
“We weren’t the best team in the league at the beginning of the year, but I thought we kept improving throughout the year to the point where at the end of the year we had the longest winning streak in the league at three games,” the senior added. “So I thought you could’ve made the argument that we were the best team at that time, and I think a tournament would’ve given us the opportunity to show that. … I would’ve liked to keep playing.”
Forwards Brandon Sherrod ’15 and Justin Sears ’16 also said that they would like to see a conference tournament in the Ivy League. Sears said that he felt it would make the league more competitive because more teams would have a chance to win the NCAA bid later in the season.
Sherrod added that a tournament could make each individual game in the regular season matter more because it would have a more direct effect on the automatic bid.
Sherrod and Sears disagreed on whether the addition of a conference tournament would affect recruiting. While Sherrod said that the academic opportunities were reason enough to play for an Ivy League school, Sears offered a different opinion.
“The lack of a conference tournament made me wary of attending an Ivy League school since I wanted to make sure to always be able to compete for a title,” Sears said. “I think the addition of a conference tournament would give a boost on the recruiting front for the league.”
Sears added that the addition of a conference tournament could leave open the possibility of a “Cinderella run” for a team from lower down in the standings.
Citing the example of the Liberty University team that lost 20 regular season games but won the Big South tournament, Sherrod said that conference tournaments deciding automatic bids would make the regular season less important.
Yale (14–17, 8–6 Ivy) finished third in the Ivy League behind the Harvard Crimson (20–10, 11–3 Ivy) and the Princeton Tigers (17–11, 10–4 Ivy). The Crimson defeated the University of New Mexico 68–62 in the Round of 64 to register the school’s first NCAA tournament victory. That would be all for the Cantabs, however, as the University of Arizona blew out Harvard, 74–51, in the Round of 32.