Ivy League Directors Shoot Down Idea of Adding Postseason Tournament

Despite increased public discussion in recent weeks over the possibility of introducing a postseason tournament to Ancient Eight men’s and women’s basketball, the Ivy League athletic directors have blocked proposed plans for a four-team playoff, instead voting to maintain the league’s current system for crowning a conference champion.

“After careful consideration of these proposals, the athletics 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," Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris said in a statement last week.

In April, Ivy League coaches put forward a proposal for a four-team playoff, a plan that would end the league’s practice of crowning a champion based on which team has the best record at the end of the double round-robin regular season. This season, the Crimson men’s basketball team claimed the Ivy title while the women finished in second place to Princeton and played in the Women's National Invitation Tournament.

The Ivy League is the only current Division I conference that does not determine its men’s and women’s March Madness bids by postseason tournaments.

The implementation of a playoff system has been discussed among Ivy officials before. According to Harvard women’s basketball coach Kathy Delaney-Smith, the possibility has been brought up time and time again during the 30 years she has served as coach.

“Some of the coaches on the women’s side have been fighting for that ad nauseam,” Delaney-Smith said.“We have exhausted every argument.”

This time though, things seemed different.

For one, the creation of postseason contests in the past decade in other Ivy sports, including lacrosse and softball, has increased the strength of the basketball coaches’ arguments with league officials. In addition, more of the coaches of the men’s basketball teams have thrown their support behind a tournament.

In the past, the men’s programs at traditional Ivy standouts Penn and Princeton have opposed the plan, according to Delaney-Smith. In the past few years, the increased strength of the league—in part due to the Crimson’s emergence as a basketball powerhouse—has created a new culture in Ivy League basketball, encouraging the men’s coaches to come out full force in support of a tournament.

In April, Harvard men’s basketball coach Tommy Amaker told the Crimson he sees the advantages of a tournament for the league.

“I have been in favor of ways for us to increase our brand of Ivy League basketball for the future,” he said. ”I have been in favor of ways for us to increase our brand of Ivy League basketball for the future.”

Even with their backing, the coaches’ proposal was shot down once again at the annual athletic directors’ meeting in Red Bank, N.J.

In a statement released by his school at the time of the proposal, Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky foreshadowed the plan’s demise.

“Over the years there has been wide-ranging discussion on the merits of a men's basketball tournament,” Bilsky said. “There are many philosophical, as well as logistical, issues and challenges to consider. In my opinion, to date the reasons not to have a tournament have been much more compelling than the reasons to sponsor one.”

Response to the potential plan, along with its demise last week, has been relatively mixed.

In April, Brandyn Curry '13, a guard for the Harvard men’s basketball team, tweeted his agreement with Bilsky’s position.

“Honestly I think the way the ivy does it Is how every conference should,” Curry wrote.

But Delaney-Smith expressed her disappointment in the rejection of the plan.

“It’s unfortunate that we are one of the few leagues in the country that doesn’t have a tournament,” Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “I love tournaments. The tournament experience is wonderful for student-athletes, everyone loves it.”

—Staff writer Jacob D. H. Feldman can be reached at jacobfeldman@college.harvard.edu.

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