The Ivy League is the only conference in the country that doesn't award its NCAA tournament automatic bid to the winner of its conference tournament. Why? Because it doesn't have a conference tournament. Indeed, the winner of the regular season -- an elegant round-robin format in which each team plays every other team twice -- gets the automatic bid. If there's a tie, a one-game tiebreaker is held. And that's that.
But there is talk about changing the Ivy League's AQ bid determination process, about joining the rest of the country in conference tournament-dom. From the Philadelphia Daily News:
Every few years, a proposal to start a postseason tournament for Ivy League basketball gets pushed forward. The coaches have recently proposed a four-team tournament, but the key word is "proposed." [...] The Ivy athletic directors will meet May 8 to 10. They may talk about the proposal. They may ignore it. If they approve, it would need to pass another stage before getting to the presidents.
What are the chances the measure passes? Slim, it seems. For one, the Ivy League has a notorious long gestation process for rules changes and the like; if anything was approved, it would probably come a few years down the line, anyway. But there doesn't exactly appear to be much enthusiasm for the idea. That's the case at Penn, at least, where athletic director Steve Bilsky hardly endorsed the concept in a statement released by the school:
"Over the years there has been wide-ranging discussion on the merits of a men's basketball tournament. 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. When it comes to basketball competition, the double round-robin format to select the NCAA representative is one instance where I believe the Ivy League has it right."
I couldn't agree more.
Look, we all love when a team like Western Kentucky, which entered the 2012 NCAA tournament with a losing record and an interim head coach, rises from the ashes in the postseason, puts together a magnificent week of basketball, and earns an unlikely trip to the NCAA tournament. It's always a heartwarming story. But is it any more heartwarming than a mid-major league -- where the chances for an at-large bid are almost always slim to none -- ensures its NCAA tournament representative is the team that was best for the entire measure of the season? Doesn't that team deserve it more? Shouldn't a trip to the tournament (if not the tournament itself, obviously) be less about the randomness of one-time elimination games and more about the content of a mid-major team's entire season?
I think so. Simply put, it's about sample size. By the end of the season, the Ivy League ensures that its most deserving team enters the NCAA tournament. There are no (OK, few) lucky runs and no (OK, few) unjustly absent frontrunners. It is, I would argue, as it should be.
There's also the matter of making the regular season more entertaining and impactful. When every game matters -- and this is probably true of mid-major leagues more than the big boys, particularly because so many at-large bids come from high-major leagues, but the general concept works all the same -- there is less incentive for casual fans to ignore the games in January and February, to merely tune in during the final week before the NCAA tournament. From January to March, the Ivy League's format makes every game count.
Don't change, Ivy League. Don't ever change. Your lack of tournament makes you unique; it gives you cachet. But I would agree with Bilsky: You also happen to have it right.
If anything, other conferences, especially mid-majors, should follow the Ivy's lead -- not the other way around.