Courtesy of Steve Musco
In April, the Ivy League signed a 10-year contract with ESPN, which guaranteed live coverage of 24 assorted games on ESPN’s family of networks and over 1,100 competitions on the company’s new streaming service ESPN+ each year.
The conference’s eight men’s basketball coaches celebrated the increased exposure this new deal will provide in last month’s men’s basketball preseason primer, a coaches roundtable convened to discuss recruiting, scheduling and the state of men’s basketball in the Ivy League.
Since games are now shown on ESPN, more people watch them and are noticing that these schools are strong not only in academics but also in sports like basketball, Yale head coach James Jones said.
Coaches at the recorded conversation, moderated by ESPN college basketball analyst and former Columbia guard Dalen Cuff, emphasized the growing strength of Ancient Eight men’s basketball. Misconceptions about the league, its talent and its play style are changing according to Jones.
ESPN’s linear networks — cable channels that include ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPNews — will broadcast 11 Ivy League men’s basketball games this season. Yale in particular will play in four of those 11 contests, including marquee matchups against Duke in December and against Harvard in February. ESPN also owns broadcasting rights to all three games of the Ancient Eight’s Ivy Madness tournament, a seeded four-team playoff that determines the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament each March.
“I love our non-conference schedule,” guard Trey Phills ’19 said. “We have a lot of exposure nationally … I’m glad we play and are able to compete with high level competition.”
Recently, as Jones and Phills noted, Ivy League programs have proven their ability to compete with the juggernauts of Division I college basketball. The conference’s NCAA tournament teams have upset groups from power conferences in half of their March Madness appearances since 2013, including Yale’s 2016 victory over five-seed Baylor. Even the losses have been close and competitive contests — in 2017, Notre Dame topped Princeton by just two points, while Penn trailed one-seed Kansas by only four in the second half in last season’s tournament.
As successful postseason play and increased exposure have generated more respect for Ivy League basketball, coaches remarked that recruiting talented student-athletes has become markedly easier, especially when recruiters leverage the value of an Ivy League education. Families and recruits recognize the benefit of a degree that serves student-athletes throughout their lives, even if that means forgoing full four-year scholarships from schools in other conferences.
“When you think about athletes on TV, you think ESPN, and when you think about the highest level education in the world, you think the Ivy League,” Cornell head coach Brian Earl said. “When you start putting those things together and put it in front of people, we don’t have to do much of a sales job. It sells itself.”
Under head coach Tommy Amaker, Harvard has spearheaded the revolution in Ivy League basketball recruiting. In the past three years, the Crimson has netted a trio of four-star recruits in current freshman guard Noah Kirkwood, junior guard Bryce Aiken and junior forward Chris Lewis. Chicago Bulls forward Wendell Carter Jr., ranked the nation’s fifth-best high school recruit by ESPN’s recruiting index after graduating from high school in 2017, seriously considered committing to Harvard before landing a spot with the Duke Blue Devils.
Yale and Princeton have followed Harvard closely behind in recruiting. 247Sports considered forward Jordan Bruner ’20, the 146th ranked high school player in the country for 2016, the Bulldogs’ most impressive recruit ever. Princeton freshman Jaelin Llewellyn, meanwhile, was a top-100 player in the class of 2018.
Although Harvard’s Jeremy Lin is the Ivy League’s most recent graduate to play in the NBA, coaches said that professional scouts — intrigued by players such as Eli guard Miye Oni ’20 — have been visiting practices and games frequently in recent seasons. Since early October, representatives from the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs have traveled to New Haven to watch the Bulldogs practice.
“I’ve been on the phone with more NBA scouts this offseason than ever,” Brown head coach Mike Martin said. “It’s not just about some of the guys we have [at Brown], but it’s about everyone in the league, and I think that speaks to the future of the league.”
The first televised match of an Ancient Eight squad on an ESPN cable network will feature Yale versus Cal in tomorrow night’s Pac-12 China Game from Shanghai. Tipoff starts on ESPNU at 11 p.m.
William McCormack | firstname.lastname@example.org .