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When will the Palestra next host the Ivy basketball tournaments? The league hasn’t decided yet.

"We haven’t talked about it,” executive director Robin Harris told The Inquirer. But the league has already made a big change to its original plan for the tournaments' host sites.

The Palestra hasn't hosted the Ivy League's basketball tournaments since 2018, and the league hasn't decided yet when it will again.
The Palestra hasn't hosted the Ivy League's basketball tournaments since 2018, and the league hasn't decided yet when it will again.Read moreCharles Fox / Staff Photographer

PRINCETON, N.J. — Four years ago, the Ivy League began a long and controversial rotation of hosting its basketball tournaments at all eight of the league’s schools.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 tournaments and the full 2020-21 season, the league stuck with the rotation plan and moved everything two years later. Harvard, the scheduled 2020 host, was the setting last year; Princeton did so this year; and the plan was to go to Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, and then Columbia through 2027.

But last month, the league surprisingly decided to upend the order and go to Columbia next year instead of Brown.

That sparked speculation around the league. Was the plan simply being reordered — or torn up? And if the latter, could the tournaments return to the Palestra earlier than planned, having not been there since 2018?

2026 is the nation’s 250th birthday and a big year for sports in Philadelphia with MLB’s All-Star Game and the men’s World Cup coming to town. That originally was the first year open on the Ivy calendar, so it was natural to wonder if the basketball tournaments would come to town then.

2027 is an even bigger year for the Palestra as it’s the arena’s 100th birthday.

The Ivy League often is happy to plan things far in advance. But in this case, it hasn’t yet.

» READ MORE: Penn loses to Princeton, 77-70, in Ivy League men’s tournament semifinals

‘We’ll decide’

“We haven’t talked about it,” executive director Robin Harris told The Inquirer on Sunday morning. “I’m being candid — we haven’t talked about it.”

In fact, she said, the schedule of the rotation after next year is now open to change.

“We’ll decide, just like we have been,” Harris said. “It’s an evaluation. We have continually been evaluating the tournament and assessing how it’s going, and what the athletic directors are interested [in].”

Harris cited renovations to Columbia’s Levien Gymnasium as the reason for moving the venue up in line. There are new seats, a new video board, and a street-level entrance with a big atrium at 120th Street and Broadway in Manhattan that makes it a lot easier to move fans in and out.

“Taking into account construction and other improvements that are going on at our schools is a relevant piece, that when we set the initial schedule was not a factor,” Harris said.

The league will need the help. Levien’s 2,700-seat capacity makes it the third-smallest basketball arena in the league, and there will be big demand for tickets with so many alumni of Ivy schools in New York.

Expect a spike in media interest too, with Levien just a subway ride from the Big East men’s tournament at Madison Square Garden and the Atlantic 10 at the Barclays Center. On the women’s side, Columbia is now a league power and has gained a lot of attention this season.

» READ MORE: Kayla Padilla doesn’t know where she’ll land after Penn. Right now, she doesn’t want to think about it

The rest of the rotation

So, what about the schools that haven’t hosted yet?

Though Cornell’s campus is out of the way from the rest of the league in central New York, there’s no question it has the facilities to handle hosting the event — not just a 4,500-seat arena, but ancillary facilities around it for eight teams (four men’s and four women’s), hospitality, and so on.

Brown and Dartmouth have long faced questions, though, because they have smaller gyms and less space for everything else.

“I think all of our schools could host, and have facilities that could host our tournament,” Harris said. “So the question is, what’s best for the student-athletes’ experience, what’s best for the tournament, and we have to keep evaluating. Every year we learn more, and we have to keep evaluating and be flexible — that’s how we always operate.”

She also said that when the planning for the rotation was originally done, all eight schools said they wanted to host and submitted documentation to back it up. And while Harris said she’s gotten an earful from Brown fans claiming their school got kicked out of the rotation, she said that is not the case.

The other big question the Ivy League faces on this is whether its basketball tournaments will someday become popular enough to hold at a neutral site with a bigger capacity. In 2019, Harris told The Inquirer that the league looked at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., “very seriously.”

Many fans also have pointed to Providence, R.I.’s Amica Mutual Pavilion (known as the Dunkin’ Donuts Center for decades until last year) and Bridgeport, Conn.’s Total Mortgage Arena (with various names over time) as venues they’d like to see used.

But they’d cost money to rent, and it’s money the league isn’t ready to spend yet. Nor is there enough corporate sponsorship yet to help.

“There are expenses associated with going to a place like the Prudential Center, or wherever you want to pick … and I don’t know if we’re ready to do that,” Harris said. “We did look at all the possible neutral-site venues and our footprint, and it just was cost-prohibitive.”

» READ MORE: From the Palestra to this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Southwest Philly icon Dan Harrell walks the walk