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Ivy League director: Basketball tournament ‘belongs on our campuses’

On the eve of this year’s Ivy League basketball tournaments, Robin Harris spent a few minutes discussing the decision to rotate the event around the league’s eight campuses.

This year's Ivy League basketball tournaments are being played at Yale's 2,800-seat John J. Lee Amphitheater.
This year's Ivy League basketball tournaments are being played at Yale's 2,800-seat John J. Lee Amphitheater.Read moreJonathan Tannenwald (custom credit) / Staff

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — On the eve of this year’s Ivy League basketball tournaments, conference executive director Robin Harris spent a few minutes with The Inquirer to discuss the decision to rotate the event around the league’s eight campuses.

The interview has been edited for clarity.

The Ivy League’s basketball tournaments have moved away from the Palestra this year, as part of a rotation through all eight conference venues. When did the league decide that this was the right thing to do?

It was an evolution, and it’s been an interesting process. Obviously, we went to the Palestra in Year 1, and then we decided to go back in Year 2. When the athletic directors decided that, at that time they didn’t take a vote on it, but the sense was it was not staying at the Palestra forever.

So then it became, where next? When we announced last year that Yale was next, we knew, but weren’t ready to announce, that it was going to be a rotation at that point. And the reason we weren’t ready to announce is, each school had to go back and look at the requirements to host this tournament. Eight teams [over] two tournaments, six games — do you have the facilities, do you have the staff, do you have the interest in hosting? We got the information back that yes, all eight schools can do it.

It will be different at each school. We’ll adjust and tweak and modify. The athletic directors then voted during this academic year on the rotation, and then we were trying to decide when to announce it. We thought that the best time to announce it was a few weeks prior to this tournament so that the focus here would be on these eight teams, these student-athletes who are going to be competing this weekend, and not on “Where are you going to be next year?”

Was that vote unanimous?

I honestly don’t remember, and even if I did, we don’t release votes.

How did the league conclude that all eight venues would be suitable hosts?

It was through the process of getting information from each school. We had a chart, there was a matrix, and our staff looked at it. We have a tournaments working group with individuals from every school. They all looked at it. Our athletic directors got the information, and it was a sense that everyone wants to host it.

What a wonderful opportunity, to be able to bring this terrific event to each campus community and have the local fans that support their teams at the school throughout the year have a chance to attend. And for fans that travel, to get to our campuses.

What sorts of requirements were needed?

There’s a wish list, and then there’s a requirements list. That’s where the group had to decide what’s absolutely necessary to the event.

You need a court that we can play on; obviously, everyone has that. Seating capacity. We need media workroom space, that’s important, and access to the venue. At least four locker rooms at any given time for the teams, plus you need two for the officials. Other than that ...

Is the small capacity of some Ivy venues a concern for you?

We have to pay attention to capacity, and we have to make sure that we give our most ardent fans the opportunity to attend. All the venues can do that. We’re going to have terrific environments for our student-athletes who are playing, because we’re going to have packed venues everywhere we go. The Palestra was a great environment, the way the sound reverberates, for the men and the women. At the smaller venues, we’ll pack them.

You mentioned the league’s most ardent fans being able to get in. What about less-ardent fans, including students?

We’ll always have student tickets. At some of the smaller venues, will they sell out sooner than others? That could happen. So that year, it’s going to be a really tough ticket.

Having the event at a neutral site has been put off until at least 2026. How much money from sponsorships and media rights does the league need to earn in order to rent an off-campus facility?

During the past several years, we’ve looked at a number of neutral facilities. That’s been part of the process throughout. There’s a couple of issues.

One, it’s very costly. It’s much more cost-effective to be in one of our campus venues.

The second piece is the atmosphere at neutral venues. Some conferences choose to go to neutral venues. Obviously all of the so-called “Power 6” conferences are at neutral venues, and sometimes their crowds are just not that great, and the atmosphere’s not that great, frankly. Sometimes it’s great, and kudos to them, but for us, as we looked at neutral venues, there was a concern it didn’t, at this point in time, feel right for the Ivy League.

I’m not going to rule it out forever, but announcing the rotation as we did, I think, signals pretty clearly we think our event belongs on our campuses.

The tournaments were never about generating revenue. We want to cover our costs, and operate them in a cost-effective way, and we want to make sure ticket prices remain accessible to our fans. That this is something a family can come to. The costs go up to a great extent at a neutral venue.

There have been rumors that the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., made a strong lobbying effort to host this event. Is that true?

We looked at a number of venues. Yeah, we did look at the Prudential Center very seriously.

Did you look at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence?

We talked about a lot of venues. I’m not going to get into the details of all of them.

If there are any major logistical issues here or at future campus sites, can the league say this isn’t working and get out of the plan?

We will always continue to evaluate and tweak and figure out what we need to be doing differently. One thing that I really appreciate about our athletic directors is their willingness to think thoughtfully and carefully, and decide what’s best for the student-athletes.

I don’t anticipate any logistical issues that would cause us to change what we’ve said. Should that happen, should we feel like the student-athlete experience isn’t what it should be, then we can always make adjustments.

Are there locked-in contracts?

We’ve agreed to do it. There are no contracts.