With an outright Ivy League title in 2015–16, Yale was the only men’s basketball team in the country to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament solely by winning a regular-season conference championship. Following an announcement from the Ivy League, the Bulldogs have officially become the last team ever to do so.
The eight Ivy League presidents have approved a four-team postseason tournament to determine the conference’s bids to the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournament, the league announced in a Thursday press release. With the decision, the Ivy League joins all other 31 NCAA Division I conferences in implementing a league tournament. The Ivy League will continue to award its official championship to the team or teams with the best record in conference play, as it has done since a title was first awarded in the 1956–57 season.
“A tournament is a great opportunity to showcase the competitiveness of the league at a time when everyone has developed and is hitting stride,” Yale women’s basketball forward Nyasha Sarju ’16 said. “I think it is a wonderful idea, and I only wish I could have experienced playing in the Ivy tournament.”
Until this change, the Ivy League’s NCAA Tournament bid was awarded to the team with the best record in conference play. If any teams finished with the same number of wins and losses, as the Yale and Harvard men’s teams did last year, they were named co-champions and played a single-elimination playoff for the berth at a neutral site.
In that playoff last season, Yale fell to Harvard, 53–51, the day before NCAA Tournament brackets were announced. That game was played at Penn’s Palestra, where the inaugural Ivy League tournament will take place on March 11 and 12, 2017. After that playoff, the league will evaluate it and select a site for the following year. Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris did not rule out the possibility of a neutral, non-Ivy League site.
Television rights to the tournament have not yet been settled, according to Harris.
“As far as television and digital opportunities, those are things we are going to explore fully,” Harris said. “Revenue, frankly, was not part of the conversation. We did this because it was the right thing to do.”
Despite their share of the Ivy title and 22–10 overall record, which included a win over then-reigning national champion UConn, the 2014–15 Bulldogs were not invited to any of the four major postseason tournaments: the NCAA Tournament, National Invitation Tournament, CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament and College Basketball Invitational.
The NIT guarantees a spot to any conference regular season champion that does not win its tournament and does not earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The policy did not apply to the Ivy League, but will in the future with the introduction of the tournament.
“I was stunned and disgusted, at the same time, at how it worked out,” head coach James Jones said a week after his team was snubbed. “I just can’t understand how this team was not seen in a higher light.”
According to Harris, the four-team, two-day basketball playoff was modeled on the Ivy League men’s and women’s lacrosse tournaments, which began in 2010. Ivy League baseball and softball also hold a postseason, with the top teams from two four-member divisions competing in a Championship Series for the Ivy League Championships and bids to the College World Series and College Softball World Series.
The new tournament was formatted to minimize the amount of class student-athletes will miss, Harris said, and will cause “no net increase to student-athletes’ time across the board” because each team will be required to play one fewer nonconference game.
“We think that showcasing Ivy League athletics during March Madness, when the nation is focused on college basketball, provides us a terrific opportunity to showcase our unique brand of college athletics,” Harris said in a media teleconference on Thursday afternoon. “It provides yet another venue to highlight the competitiveness, athletically, and also the stories of our fabulous student-athletes.”
According to Yale Associate Director of Sports Publicity Tim Bennett, the addition of a postseason tournament is a “win-win” because although student-athletes will get to experience the “thrills and heartbreak” of a postseason tournament, the 14 regular-season games, which determine the four qualifying teams, will still be meaningful.
In February, Yale men’s basketball forward Justin Sears ’16 noted that the winner-takes-all mentality meant that teams eliminated from title contention would just “phone it in.” With the addition of a tournament, teams in or near the top half of the standings will have added motivation to win games late in the season.
Players and administrators interviewed were largely satisfied with the announcement, and noted that the postseason tournament will add to both the excitement and competitiveness of the Ivy League season.
“The excitement of March Madness now includes the announcement of an Ivy League postseason basketball tournament,” Yale Director of Athletics Tom Beckett said. “We are thrilled with this news. The women’s and men’s basketball teams in the Ivy League will now have the added excitement of striving to make the four-team postseason tournament.”
The Yale men’s basketball team has placed in the top four of the Ivy League for each of the past 16 seasons, while the women’s team has done so for six of the past seven years.