Starting next fall, the men’s basketball Ivy League regular season champion may not score an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Administrators at the eight Ivy League schools are holding meetings this month to determine whether a post-season conference tournament will be implemented. Of the 32 Division I conferences in men’s basketball, the Ivy League is the only one currently without a tournament at the conclusion of the regular season.
At Yale, the tournament has already been approved by Director of Athletics Tom Beckett and men’s basketball head coach James Jones, according to a member of the basketball coaching staff who asked to remain anonymous. The decision, however, must still be approved by the President’s Office. Additionally, all eight Ivy League schools must agree for the tournament to be added — a process that should be complete by the end of the month, the coaching staff member said.
“I think from the team standpoint, as far as coaches and the players go, it would be almost unanimous that we would welcome a conference tournament,” Yale men’s basketball assistant coach Matthew Kingsley said. “I think everyone would be excited about it.”
This conference tournament would feature the top-four finishing Ancient Eight teams, according to the anonymous Yale basketball staff member. He also indicated that the tournament would be likely played at the Palestra, home of the Penn Quakers. The Palestra played host to last year’s Ivy League Playoff, between Yale and Harvard, that was mandated by the teams’ sharing of the regular season championship.
Ivy League Associate Executive Director for Communications and External Relations Scottie Rodgers declined request for comment as did Jones and Yale Assistant Director of Sports Publicity Tim Bennett. Beckett could not be reached for comment Monday.
Players and administrators interviewed all saw the benefits of bringing a conference tournament to the League.
“The Ivy League would see several benefits from introducing the tournament,” forward Sam Downey ’17 said. “Most notably, the tournament could add additional revenue to the conference from the playoff games and also, because the tournament would likely be nationally broadcast, it would be a great way for teams to get additional national exposure.”
Forward Justin Sears ’16, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, added that the tournament would make the league more competitive. He noted that due to the way the regular season is currently set up, teams may find themselves with slim championship hopes after only a few weekends of play, potentially discouraging them from playing their best.
“Part of being the Ivy League champion is being able to keep the consistency it requires to win back-to-back nights,” former forward Greg Mangano ’12 said. “But to be the only Division I conference without a conference tournament at this point needs to be changed.”
Kingsley noted that, as the only conference without a conference tournament, the Ivy League can be misperceived as less serious than other conferences in the nation. He added that the Ivy League is often resented for “trying to do things differently from all other schools.”
However, some interviewed recognized the negative consequences that a conference tournament might bring to the court.
Having the tournament winner — instead of the regular season champion — gain the automatic bid could potentially send an undeserving team to the NCAA tournament, or at least a team less deserving than the regular season winner, Downey said. He added that the tournament could also make regular season games less meaningful and therefore less appealing to fans.
“There are two schools of thought on this: on one hand, the regular season champion is the team that has been the best team all season, [but] on the other hand, a conference tournament champion could be the hottest team, and guarantees a one-game, winner-takes-all game at the end of the season for both fans and television,” said Kevin Pauga, director of basketball operations at No. 1 Michigan State, a member of the Big 10 conference.
Others mentioned the traditional appeal of keeping what many refer to as the “14-game tournament” when discussing the Ivy League regular season.
Sears told the News in March that he felt as though the Ivy rules were “set in stone,” a belief that current captain and guard Jack Montague ’16 reiterated.
“The Ivy League tends to have strict policies on not changing tradition and I believe this is a major reason why we haven’t seen a tournament yet,” Montague said.
A conference tournament might have changed spring break plans for the 15 players on last year’s Yale squad. Although the Bulldogs shared the regular season championship with Harvard — who later earned the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA by edging Yale in the aforementioned one-game playoff — they were not granted a bid to either the NCAA or the NIT.
The NIT offers a bid to any regular season champion that fails to advance to the NCAA Tournament, so long as that team plays in a conference with a postseason tournament. Since the Ivy League does not have such a tournament, Yale did not receive an automatic bid to the NIT and thus missed out on any form of postseason play despite winning its most games since the 1948–49 season.
Though Jones declined to comment on the current status of the decision-making process, he did express his disappointment with the current format after the conclusion of last season.
“I certainly think the Ivy system needs to be fixed. We’re well deserving of a bid, and we shoot ourselves in the foot [by not having a postseason tournament] and not giving ourselves an automatic bid [to the NIT],” Jones told the News in March.
Beyond the practical benefit of having a tournament, the added bonus of increased exposure could also play a role in recruitment, Kingsley said. He said that the lack of a conference tournament can be used against the Elis when players are deciding between Yale and a school that plays in a league with a tournament.
“I don’t think the league is as respected as it should be,” Mangano said. “It’s certainly heading in the right direction, and I think adding the conference tournament would only further the progress the league has made.”
Yale has not played in the NCAA Tournament since 1962.