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Thursday, May 10, 2012
Three cheers for no Ivy League tourney

By Eamonn Brennan

In mid-April, we learned of potentially dire, downright unthinkable news: The Ivy League was considering -- gasp -- a season-ending conference tournament. No, Ivy League, no! Say it isn't so!

It isn't so. Today, the Ivy League announced via a release that its "directors of athletics have decided not to move forward with proposals for postseason tournaments in men's and women's basketball."

"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," said Robin Harris, Ivy League Executive Director.

I agree, for two reasons:

1. If nothing else, the Ivy League -- from a cultural/educational standpoint, but also a sporting one -- is about tradition. Tradition is what makes its schools so unique, and it's what makes the league itself, marginal mid-major though it often is, stand out. The 14-game round-robin schedule and the lack of a conference tournament is one of these things. Keep it.

2. I actually believe this is how every conference -- or at least every non-BCS conference -- should handle its conference tournament. Sure, I love über-underdog runs like 2012 Western Kentucky's as much as the next fan. But not as much as I hate seeing worthy tournament teams, who dominated their leagues all season but can't schedule nonconference opponents commensurate to receiving an at-large bid, being left by the wayside. Middle Tennessee State went 27-7 overall in 2012, and 14-2 in the Sun Belt regular season. But a three-point upset in the first round of the Sun Belt conference tournament relegated the Blue Raiders to the NIT (where, it might or might not be worth noting, they beat Marshall and Tennessee before falling to Minnesota).

Conference tournaments are exciting, no question. Everybody gathers with one automatic bid on the line, and all your favorite team needs to make its last-ditch tournament dreams a reality is three or four days of hot shooting and energetic play. It can be thrilling. It can also be massively unfair. Settling that bid over the course of a season, with an entire round-robin schedule of games, is a far more sporting (now there's an Ivy League term) way to go about your AQ business.

Of course, this is just sort of the way college basketball works. It's the beauty of the NCAA tournament in a nutshell, this small-sample-size randomness. I wouldn't expect large-scale adoption of the Ivy League's model anytime soon. But it is good to see at least one league, the good old Ivy, place so much value -- the right amount of value -- on its regular season. The rest of the sport could take a note.