This is one part of a point–counterpoint series on the concept of an Ivy League men’s basketball conference tournament. Read the opposing column here.
Fans, coaches and administrators have been, of late, celebrating a new playoff system in college sports.
This four-team tournament creates huge buzz, with the championship heavily publicized on ESPN, and it also has worked like a charm: Despite fears that the regular season would be devalued, every game still matters — perhaps more than ever, with several teams in the running for a title up until the final game of the season.
I’m talking about the College Football Playoff, but I could just as easily be talking about the proposed Ivy League conference tournament, since the Ancient Eight only stands to gain from modernizing with a four-team bracket.
For starters, situations like last year’s, where Yale won a share of the Ivy title but finished without a postseason berth following a last-minute loss to Harvard, would no longer occur. Under the conference tournament proposal, the Bulldogs would have been guaranteed a spot in the National Invitation Tournament since they were regular season champions. And those teams often succeed: in four of the past five years, an auto-qualifier has made it to at least the quarterfinals of the NIT.
The one exception? The 2013 NIT, when No. 8 seed Robert Morris — an automatic qualifier — shocked defending national champion No. 1 Kentucky in the first round. Automatic qualifiers do serious damage in the NIT, so the Ivy League stands to benefit by getting its teams into the tournament.
And there’s no reason to set our sights as low as even the NIT. Plenty of mid-major conferences can support two teams in the NCAA Tournament, as evidenced by Boise State getting a bid last year out of the Mountain West. Given the incredible recruiting class that Harvard is set to bring in next year, and given the talent throughout the Ivy League, is it that far-fetched to imagine two teams making it to the Big Dance?
And those same recruiting considerations stand to benefit from a tournament. Imagine that you’re a 6-foot-8 power forward with a 4.0 GPA coming out of high school. You might think twice about going to an Ivy League school knowing that you’re never on ESPN and won’t get any national exposure. Now imagine watching Harvard and Yale duke it out for the automatic bid on ESPN (note that last year’s playoff was not available on national television). Do you think that would influence your decision? That exposure could potentially propel the Ivy League into the national conversation.
Now, some complain that regular-season games will no longer be meaningful. Many have trumpeted the hashtag #14GameTournament, referring to the 14-game conference season that currently determines each Ivy team’s fate. But, if the much-discussed four-game tournament becomes a reality, each team still must make it to the top four of the league, and seeding remains important. Besides, the regular season might be devalued in major conferences like the Atlantic Coast Conference, where, because of its strength of schedule, a team like North Carolina can lose a dozen games and still make March Madness. That’s simply not possible in the Ivy League, and every single contest could make or break a tournament resume.
Beyond that, if an upstart team manages to make its way into the tournament by winning a couple games at the end of the year, why not reward the hot hand? Look at the 2015 College Football Playoff, when everyone complained about the No. 4 seed and how it had no business making the playoff. That same team, Ohio State, proceeded to take down No. 1 Alabama before it thrashed No. 2 Oregon in the championship game.
That brings us back to football. College football is all about tradition and history, with the game stretching back to 1869 and some schools playing in the same stadiums for over a century. Yet the powers that be decided to alter its landscape last year, with enormously beneficial consequences.
The Ivy League, meanwhile, is also all about tradition and history, but that doesn’t mean that we should blindly adhere to tradition and history. A conference tournament would benefit the players, the teams and the league as a whole, not to mention the fans as well.
Simply put, it’s a slam dunk.
Grant Bronsdon is a senior in Ezra Stiles College and a former Sports Editor for the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .