The Ivy League announced Tuesday it is taking the extraordinary step of canceling its men’s and women’s basketball championship tournaments, scheduled for this weekend at Harvard, because of coronavirus concerns.
“With the health of students as well as the campus and the general community in mind,” the Ivy League said in a statement about the decision to cancel. “The decision has been made in accordance with the guidance of public health and medical professionals to discourage and limit large gatherings on campuses in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.”
The league announced men’s regular-season champion Yale and women’s champion Princeton will represent the Ivy League in the NCAA Tournament.
So Penn’s men’s and women’s teams, which had qualified for the four-team playoff, are out of NCAA consideration.
"Didn’t see it coming,'' said Penn’s men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue, whose team was scheduled to play Yale on Saturday in the semifinals. “To pull this from our kids, it’s the most horrific thing I’ve dealt with as a coach.”
Donahue cited “the inconsistencies” in the decision: “To have to tell kids their seasons and their careers are over, while lacrosse teams are going off to play games and wrestlers are going to nationals. ... If you’re letting Yale go to the NCAA Tournament -- if they’d said across the board, we’re shutting down all sports, you’d understand.”
Penn women’s coach Mike McLaughlin also used the term “inconsistency” in talking about the decision. He added the word “hypocrisy.”
“To allow these other sports to continue this weekend and cancel this tournament is really hard to explain to your young ladies,” McLaughlin said. “They’re very intelligent. It’s not OK for them to play, for their safety, while it’s OK for others. It’s wrong in so many ways. ... The hypocrisy is difficult for really mature young ladies to accept.”
McLaughlin was talking on the phone from the floor of the Palestra, saying that men’s and women’s players were sitting together, on their phones, processing the whole thing. He could see the disbelief turning to anger, McLaughlin said.
The women’s team isn’t done. As the second-place Ivy League finisher, Penn gets an automatic bid to the NIT. The Penn men won’t be in a postseason tournament.
"Hockey is taking place up at Cornell with Princeton involved,'' McLaughlin said. “It’s hard for players who have been competing for six months to understand this.”
He added that over the next three or four days, some of these other events will be canceled, but this basketball decision was made while other events were allowed to continue.
“I don’t want to say anything against any other sport,” McLaughlin said.
“We understand and share the disappointment with student-athletes, coaches and fans who will not be able to participate in these tournaments,” Ivy League executive director Robin Harris said in the statement. “Regrettably, the information and recommendations presented to us from public health authorities and medical professionals have convinced us that this is the most prudent decision.”
It clearly factored into the decision by the Ivy presidents that they were sending their entire student bodies home on some campuses. Later Tuesday, Harvard announced it was shutting down in-person classes to the end of the spring semester. A number of hockey games involving Ivy teams will be played without crowds.
Ivy players themselves have started a petition on change.org asking the league to reconsider its decision and reinstate the tournament.
“I believe it was started by the Penn women’s team,” said Penn men’s star AJ Brodeur, who said he has signed the petition.
“The hypocrisy of our Ivy League presidents is baffling and alarming,” read the petition. "We are disappointed and disheartened that they would discriminate against one sport and allow the others to continue to compete. Other conferences, such as the SEC and Pac-12, are still scheduled to host their men’s basketball championship tournaments. These tournaments are scheduled to start March 11 or later.
“Every single team in this league devotes their entire year to reaching this level of competition. We feel the decision to cancel the tournament was made without enough serious consideration for the student athletes ...”
The petition specifically noted that Penn senior Devon Goodman was two points short of reaching 1,000 career points.
“More concern about the spread of the virus would have led to the cancellation of not only all other tournaments, but all other sporting events as well,” noted the petition, mentioning that “as of right now” Yale women’s lacrosse was flying to California to compete against Fresno State and “multiple Ivy League baseball and softball teams are competing in Florida. Additionally, Ivy League wrestlers are flying to Minneapolis to compete in the NCAA tournament.”
The petition called it “discrimination” against the basketball teams. “We just want to play. As much as we want our family and friends to be in attendance, we don’t need spectators to play the sport we love. We acknowledge that this is a serious health issue and there is a lot to consider in finding an alternate solution. However, we are ready and willing to invest the time and energy to ensure that we can compete in the Ivy League tournament.”
Aware of the petition, the Ivy League issued a statement: “The most difficult part of this decision was knowing the impact it would have on student-athletes who worked all season for these moments. We understand and sympathize with their disappointment.”
All tickets for the Ivy League basketball tournaments will be refunded, the league said. Ticket holders with any questions should contact the Harvard ticket office. This is the first college basketball tournament canceled outright, but not the first major sporting event. The professional tennis tournament scheduled for Indian Wells, Calif., also has been canceled.
"Effective immediately, the Ivy League is also implementing highly restrictive in-venue spectator limitations for all other upcoming campus athletics events,'' the Ivy League announced.
Brodeur said none of his teammates expected this decision.
"We earned the spot,'' Brodeur said. “We earned more than just an extra game. We earned the opportunity to show the league, this is who we are.”