As the longest-tenured coach in a conference that steadfastly refuses to alter its academics-friendly Friday-Saturday scheduling for the sake of TV exposure, Yale's James Jones is painfully aware how resistant to change the Ivy League can be.
Nonetheless, Jones is cautiously optimistic the Ivy League's latest exploration into holding an annual postseason conference tournament has more momentum than past discussions have.
Jones, now in his 14th year as Yale's head coach, confirmed a Harvard Crimson report that Ivy League coaches have proposed a two-round tournament including only the top four finishers in the regular-season standings. The proposal must yet gain the support of first the Ivy League athletic directors and then the school presidents to come to fruition, but Jones said all eight coaches have backed the idea.
"It just makes sense for our conference to try to get more publicity and to be part of championship week," Jones said. "I also think it helps going into the tournament. Whoever wins our conference tournament, they will have won at least two games. Now you've got some momentum and you played in a conference tournament environment, so maybe the first weekend of the NCAA tournament isn't as daunting as it would be if you haven't played for a week and a half."
The notion of holding a postseason tournament in a conference that traditionally produces only one NCAA tournament team remains controversial even though the Ivy is the only automatic-bid league that doesn't have one.
On the one hand, a tournament provides national exposure for the conference, gives fans a season-ending event to look forward to and provides losing teams a goal to keep playing for even after their conference title hopes evaporate. On the other hand, its single-elimination format diminishes the chances that the league's regular-season champion will be the one who claims the automatic NCAA tournament bid.
Adding to the quandary in the Ivy League is the concern that a conference tournament would require student-athletes to miss too much class time. Only in 2010 did the Ivy League introduce its first postseason tournament in any sport, a four-team lacrosse event that required four years of study before both the athletic directors and presidents signed off on the idea.
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Working with their athletic directors on the current proposal, the Ivy League basketball coaches made several concessions to minimize missed class time, limiting the tournament to two rounds and agreeing to lop off a regular-season game from their schedules. Even so, Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky has already released a statement in opposition to the current proposal.
"In my opinion, to date, the reasons not to have a tournament have been much more compelling than the reasons to sponsor one," Bilsky said. "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.
"Nevertheless, our Ivy spring meetings are the proper forum to revisit this issue. Frankly, I would rather have the league place a greater priority on finding a way for our football programs to play in postseason competition."
One factor Jones hopes the athletic directors remember when considering the proposal for a postseason basketball tournament is the attention a one-game playoff between Harvard and Princeton drew in 2011. The Tigers secured the league's automatic NCAA bid on a buzzer-beating jump shot in front a sellout crowd, a national TV audience and a handful of prominent regional and national writers.
Jones believes the lack of a postseason tournament is hampering recruiting since the Ivy League cannot give student-athletes an opportunity to compete in something that other conferences can. Even in a conference that so often strives to be different, Jones is hopeful that this is one time where the Ivy League can be comfortable following the example of others.
"I've been around this league so long now that I know the Ivy League does things a different way than a lot of other places," Jones said. "I truly get it. I understand we're different than other people. Sometimes I take pride in being different, but in this case I think we're missing the boat."
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