I thought I was witnessing history — me, and a few hundred others. The total attendance that brisk, cold March night in Hanover, New Hampshire, was listed at a generous 1,654.
I hadn’t planned to make the trek that Saturday, the first weekend of my 2015 spring break. But when the Yale men’s basketball team shocked Harvard the night before in Boston, I decided I had to go. The Bulldogs, whom I was covering for the News, were suddenly one win away from upending a 52-year NCAA Tournament drought. All that had to be done was defeat Dartmouth, a team Yale had comfortably beaten by 15 points one month earlier.
Those dreams of dancing seemed to be coming to fruition in the early going of the game. The Bulldogs would lead for much of the game — 91.4 percent, to be exact — but each time they pulled away, the Big Green reeled them right back in. Nevertheless, Yale inched out to a five-point lead with less than 30 seconds remaining, making that elusive trip to March Madness seem inevitable.
It was in these final few minutes, which dragged on like hours, that I realized I was experiencing courtside what few others could appreciate. Late in the second half, I tweeted out that “All the eyes of the Ivy League are on Hanover, NH right now.”
Except that couldn’t actually be true.
The game was not televised, and there was no radio broadcast outside of the immediate Hanover region. Realistically, the best way to follow was through the News’ twitter feed. Thousands did so that evening, prompting me to tweet out each and every play possible. During the post-game coverage, our account was suspended for exceeding the number of messages one can send in a day.
So when the Dartmouth comeback began to unfold, set up by some big shots and aided by even bigger Yale miscues, there was little fans could do to engage.
When it came time for the fateful inbounds play with 1.8 seconds remaining — a lob and game-winning finish by Big Green forward Gabus Maldunas, a senior playing his final game for pride and pride alone — only the 1000-plus fans in attendance could see. That shot created a one-game playoff the following weekend between Yale and Harvard at the famed Palestra, and the rest is history.
Fans of the Blue and the Crimson arrived to Philadelphia in bunches, the Ivy League Playoff became a topic of discussion and Harvard ultimately won by two, sending the Elis home in heartbreaking fashion.
Many point to that game, created by that fateful Saturday evening in Hanover, as the catalyst for this year’s inaugural Ivy League men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. It may very well be the case. The atmosphere was so electric and the audience was so engaged that the Ivy League had to find a way to replicate that experience, year in and year out.
What stands out to me most about the conclusion to the 2014–15 season was that night in Hanover, and the atmosphere so many missed out on. That Yale-Dartmouth game was captivating, overflowing with intrigue, elation, devastation and every other feature encapsulated by the March Madness we all know and love. Few people may have been able to watch that evening, but with the Ivy League Tournament, similar moments will become commonplace and further add to the rich tradition of the Ancient Eight.
Though the 14-Game Tournament may have been the most fair and equitable way to decide a champion, tournaments draw eyeballs. That’s why all six games this weekend, four semifinal games and two finals, will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks. The Ancient Eight, in joining the modern era, will finally receive the platform to show off its student-athletes in two fascinating tournaments.
On the women’s side, host Penn will try to prove its lone Ivy blemish — a shocking defeat to Yale — was an aberration. As for the men, undefeated Princeton now has to fend off a streaking Penn side that not only miraculously shook off an 0–6 conference start but will now get to play in front of a raucous crowd at home.
And did I mention that at 4 p.m. on Saturday, the Yale men’s team faces Harvard for the right to play Sunday with a chance to dance?
So yeah, I think a little Ivy madness is a good thing. I saw it firsthand in Hanover two years ago, and I can’t wait to see it in Philadelphia this weekend.
James Badas is a senior in Hopper College, a former sports editor for the News and the color commentator for the Yale men’s basketball team. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jbads21 .