March Madness 2013: Ivy League Has Placed Itself At the Bottom Of the Barrel Of Basketball


Every March, I want to go back in time and tell my February self that it’s going to be OK.

“You’re going to see the sun more,” I’d say. “That sniffly nose and sore throat you’ve had for the past two months is going to go away. And most importantly, conference tournaments and March Madness are on their way. Everything is going to be just fine.”

March is the best month. Each year, almost every conference in the NCAA has a tournament to crown a champion. That champion then earns an automatic birth as one of the 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament. That is, almost every conference. The Ivy League, the one with the academic reputation who is all about tradition, is the only conference that skips the conference tournament and instead awards their automatic birth to March Madness to the league's regular season winner.

In May 2012, the athletic directors of the Ivy League once again turned down a proposal to bring a conference tournament to the league. It was a move that hinders Ivy League basketball by upholding tradition, even when common sense trumps tradition.

When it comes to tradition, the Ivy League is full of it. The league is made up of only eight teams: Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University. Referred to as the Ancient Eight, the Ivy League became the official name of the league in 1954, but the schools competed against one another long before that — football games date all the way back to the late 1800s.

At one point, the Ivy League schools were athletic powerhouses. There were Rose Bowl Wins and Final Four runs. As conferences like the SEC and the Big Ten turned into money machines that seemed to care more about sports than academia, the Ivy League dropped in terms of athletic achievement, but remained steadfast in other areas. They are to be commended for not joining in on the realignment craze that has taken over college sports, but this doesn’t mean that the Ivy League should remain in the stone ages when it comes to a conference basketball tournament.

In May of 2012, the athletic directors of the Ivy League turned down a proposal that would have created a four-team playoff to decide the Ivy League’s Champion. Kyle Smith, the coach at Columbia University, told the Daily Princetonian that the proposal, which had “unanimous support” amongst the Ivy coaches, makes sense for this day and age: “I think we’re naive if we don’t think that having our product on those national TV opportunities on ESPN makes a difference ... Especially on Championship Week and tournament time, that’s a window for people to see it. We usually go silent during Championship Week. I think it’s another opportunity for us to be seen.”

Championship Week on ESPN is one of the most exciting weeks in college sports. There are buzzer beaters, upsets, the crowning of champions. It is a bright spot in a world of college sports where 8th graders are being offered full ride scholarships to play football.

But the Ivy League is nowhere to be seen. The Ivy League is a perennial underachiever in the NCAA tournament (with the exception of Cornell’s 2010 Sweet 16 run, a team which lost to then top-seeded Kentucky). Why not up the exposure of the league in order to bring in more recruits? Why not give fans a reason to be excited during the most exciting time of the basketball year?

I graduated from Columbia. If they were in the Ivy League Championship game, you can bet I would try to be there. Sadly, it is doubtful there will be a tournament any time soon.

I blame the athletic directors. In a statement released after turning down last May’s proposal, the athletic directors decided, “that our current method of determining the Ivy League champion and our automatic bid recipient to the NCAA championship is the best model moving forward.”

They failed to say anything else. Why is it that the people in charge of sports are afraid of change? This is an extremely broad statement, but it seems odd to me that nearly every one in charge of sports is an old white guy. There is Gary Bettman of the NHL, David Stern of the NBA, Bud Selig of MLB, and Roger Goodell of the NFL. Looking at the athletic directors of the Ivy League, it’s much of the same. A quick google search showed me that seven of the eight athletic directors are older white men (the other, is an older white woman).

Ivy League athletic directors need to realize that bringing an Ivy League basketball tournament would be great for the league.

At one point, dunking was banned in the college basketball. At one point, there was no 3-point line. At one point, black players weren’t allowed on teams. While creating an Ivy League basketball tournament is not comparable to black players not being allowed to play, it is notable that change can be fantastic.

An Ivy League basketball tournament could bring new recruits, possible television coverage, and increased participation for alumni. It could hurt tradition and open the possibility of the regular season champ being upset and missing the NCAA tournament. In my opinion the positives outweigh the negatives by a long shot. College basketball is great because it is unpredictable.

Tradition be damned, just add a tournament and join in on the fun of March Madness, Ivy League.