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.
The Ancient Eight mulling over a rare change to Ivy League sports procedure isn’t terribly dissimilar to a Donald Trump presidential bid. Both tend to be met with tremendous disbelief, paralyzing fear and, of course, a healthy number of fanatical supporters wondering why nobody had gotten behind their plan, or candidate, earlier. Thankfully, the newly proposed and hotly debated change to Ivy League basketball, which would introduce a postseason tournament to decide “March Madness” qualification, isn’t nearly as terrifying as the possible election of New York City’s most cantaloupe-shaded reality TV star. However, the adoption of a conference tournament is still rife with issues.
While the idea of a four-team, winner-take-all competition would certainly provide an exciting postseason reward for basketball fans, I’ve always been a big supporter of the “14-game tournament,” as the Ancient Eight dubs the regular season. If the top half of the Ivy League qualifies for a two-game single-elimination tournament to decide NCAA bids, frankly there isn’t much of a necessity for leading teams to take regular season games down the stretch seriously. Additionally, the epic mid-season matchups between Yale and Harvard that both fan bases have come to love don’t provide nearly as much entertainment value if they’re merely deciding tournament seeding rather than helping punch a ticket to the Big Dance.
Frankly, the Ivy League doesn’t need another novelty to make basketball more interesting; it’s fun enough to watch on its own. The possibility of the best Ancient Eight squad being upset in the opening match of this tourney only reinforces my view that the proposed four-team showdown is more of a money-making sideshow than a legitimate approach. An Ivy League team battling in the Big Dance already has the deck stacked against it — I would imagine that most Ivy fans would rather see our best team take on a supremely talented first-round opponent in March Madness than watch a fluky two-game success story get blown out by Kentucky.
One of the main arguments for the tournament is the additional television exposure that it would bring to Ivy League basketball. However, that is all for naught if our best team doesn’t make the tournament because of one bad game. Exposure is all well and good, but to actually have it make a recruiting difference, high-school stars should be seeing the best of what we have to offer. And their eyes will be on the NCAA Tournament, not the Ivy League Tournament.
Furthermore, conventional coaching wisdom will tell you that playing fewer games is usually better. It gives teams an opportunity to rest stars, prepare game plans and nurse injuries. One of the few advantages that the Ivy League winner has against the rest of the NCAA field is that the team is usually amongst the first qualifiers in the tournament. Take a significant portion of those extra couple weeks away and you could have an undermanned, underprepared Ivy League squad, already dealing with the rigors of an Ancient Eight education, facing an ignominious exit from the Big Dance.
Though many Yale students reacting to last year’s NCAA and NIT tournament snubs might be in favor of an Ivy playoff, we shouldn’t blame the lack of such an institution for the team’s failure to punch its ticket last season. Yale, by virtue of squandering two opportunities to take sole possession of the Ivy League crown, didn’t deserve to be a part of the 68-team field. A win against Dartmouth or Harvard would have given us all we needed to take part in spring’s most exciting competition, and the fact that Yale didn’t manage to seize either chance is a result of poor finishes, not a poor system.
Normally, I’m the first person to call for traditions and antiquated rules to be overturned in favor of more modern systems of competition. However, the Ivy League isn’t a “modern institution,” nor is it home to any traditional basketball powerhouses. We can’t expect the same things from Yale or Harvard that we would of SEC or Pac-12 schools. Until I see any of our players going into the NBA as lottery picks, I’m willing to dispel any of my illusions that we should follow the examples of Kentucky, Louisville or Duke. Our lack of a postseason tournament might be a bit outdated, but it’s one of the few unique features of the Ivy League that actually makes our regular season exciting. If the University of Virginia loses a game to a conference opponent in January, it’s upsetting, but if Yale does, it could quash our tournament hopes.
Honestly, I think that’s even more appetizing than a two-game playoff. In this particular case, I’m willing to keep the Ancient Eight ancient.
Marc Cugnon is a junior in Calhoun College. Contact him at email@example.com .