While there are few greater feelings as a Yale fan than seeing the Bulldogs knock off Princeton or, better yet, topple Harvard, there are few opportunities to see Ivies square off on a national stage.
On only one occasion have two Ivy League basketball teams, men’s or women’s, advanced to the same NCAA Tournament — the Penn and Princeton women each advanced to the Big Dance in 2016. As for hockey, you have to go back to the 2009 NCAA men’s tournament for the last time three schools — Yale, Princeton and Cornell — represented the Ivy League.
This presents a conundrum for times like these, a year where none of Yale’s basketball or hockey teams are competing for countrywide recognition. Should I root for the Penn women’s hoops team, or for the Princeton men’s side that I watched cut down the Ivy championship nets moments after eliminating Yale?
And with Harvard hockey now in the Frozen Four of the men’s tournament for the first time since 1994, a Yale fan like myself might watch on in jealousy, bitter at the team’s success. But what about a Yale fan like myself who also loves to see the Ivy League disrupt the status quo of major collegiate athletics?
The first time I experienced this dilemma was in 2015. The Yale men’s basketball team had just lost to Harvard 52–50 in the one-game, win-or-go-home Ivy League playoff. I had just begun to get over the defeat thanks to the arrival of March Madness, and the glory that is that first weekend of nonstop action. But as I continuously flipped through the several networks airing the games, to the point that I can still recall TruTV’s listing by heart (1164), that darned Crimson team reappeared. It was squaring off with North Carolina, perhaps the definition of greatness and prestige in college basketball.
Harvard trailed by 16 early in the second half, much to my satisfaction. But little by little, Harvard began to claw its way back into contention.
And when Siyani Chambers, the pesky, fiery point guard who has been a pain in the Ivy League’s collective rear end since 2012 somehow finished a four-point play, the Crimson had taken the lead.
With 1:15 remaining, the 13th-seeded Crimson led the No. 4 Tar Heels by two. This was another momentous opportunity for the Ivy League, a conference which has won four first-round games in the past seven tournaments. But this was also Harvard, and I’ve been more or less hardwired to cringe at any success coming out of Cambridge.
Needless to say, this was one of the more confusing games to pick sides. Each time the commentators lauded Harvard for playing at such a high level, I could recognize what that meant for the status of the Ivy League as a whole. Many of the compliments afforded to that Harvard team were similar to those that poured over the Yale squad which upset Baylor last season before nearly upsetting Duke.
But with each Harvard basket, something felt fundamentally wrong as a fan who has always prided loyalty to one’s team above all else.
Harvard wound up losing the game, though they earned a great deal of respect and admiration from UNC head coach Roy Williams and continued praise from the TV analysts who commended the quality of play for an Ivy. It was a win-win for me.
But here we are again, and though no Ivy League schools remain in March Madness, the Crimson are two wins away from hoisting the national hockey title in the 2017 Frozen Four. I don’t feel great about it, and there’s a pain in my gut as I type this, but I think supporting Harvard is the way to go — perhaps not as a Yale fan, but as a proponent of the Ivy League.
A Harvard championship is ultimately a championship for the Ivy League. It provides another reason for the mass sports media to comment, “Yeah, the Ivy League is smart, but they can play, too.” Though it should be self-evident by this point that the Ivy League is a significant player in Division I sports, reputations are tough to change, and the Ancient Eight’s remains one of lower-class athletic performance in contact sports.
Rooting for Harvard this weekend in the Frozen Four does not mean I will root any less hard for Yale to beat the Crimson in coming seasons. In fact, it may drive that competitiveness a step further. When Yale faces Harvard next, not only could the Bulldogs knock off their archrival, but they could also knock off the defending national champions.
As the Ivy League continues to prove itself on the national stage, winning an Ivy League title no longer means only conference pride and being the best among eight storied programs. It means the chance, in most cases, to be the league’s ambassador to the rest of the country. It means the chance to represent to millions of onlookers what the Ivy League stands for. And it means the chance to shock those same millions, and prove that we can play too.
Yale men’s hockey did just that in 2013. Harvard, now it’s your turn, and I’ll be pulling for you.
James Badas is a senior in Hopper College and a former Sports Editor for the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .