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Ivy League men's basketball coaches to propose conference tournament

Harvard's student newspaper is reporting that the league's men's basketball coaches will soon be sending a proposal to the league office that would establish a postseason conference tournament with the top four teams in the standings.

SECOND UPDATE: I got a statement from Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky on Monday and have added it below.

FIRST UPDATE: I got a call late Saturday night from a spokesperson at the Ivy League office who told me that the coaches' proposal does NOT include the removal of a conference game, but instead includes the removal of a non-conference game.

The original story from the Harvard Crimson states that Ivy League executive director Robin Harris "said the coaches' pitch also includes the removal of one game from conference play in order to avoid any additional missed class time for players."

That would have led to the conference would no longer play a full round-robin in men's basketball, as has been its tradition for many years.

I have been told that there was a misunderstanding as to what Harris actually said. The Crimson acknowledged their error, and posted a correctin Sunday night.

That quite substantially changes the nature of what is being proposed. But as far as I know, the rest of the story still stands as it has been reported by the Crimson, and built upon by me.

The Harvard Crimson dropped a bombshell story on Ivy League basketball fans Friday.

Harvard's student newspaper reported that the league's men's basketball coaches will soon be sending a proposal to the league office that would establish a postseason conference tournament with the top four teams in the standings.

Currently, the Ancient Eight is the only conference that does not have a postseason tournament. A lot of people like that and a lot of people don't. I think you all know where I stand, but let's leave that out of the equation for now so we can just get the reported facts out there.

The Crimson's story does not give any details as to whether the tournament would be played at higher seeds or at a neutral venue. But it does state that the creation of a tournament would have a radical effect on the regular season, as the coaches propose eliminating one non-conference game from each team's schedule.

That would hamstring Penn to some degree, because the program already has its Big 5 slate locked in each year. The series with Drexel, whcih I have been told is resuming in the 2012-13 season, is also almost always a lock.

Penn plays enough other non-conference games that it might not be too much of a problem. But given that the bulk of its City Series schedule is played in late January, there is the potential for scheduling conflicts.

Then again, that situation is unique to Penn among the Ivy schools. And with Temple moving to the Big East, there's a good chance that there will soon be changes made to the way in which the Big 5 round-robin gets scheduled.

Crimson reporters Andrew R. Mooney and Blake Sundel note that the coaches' proposal is modeled after the Ivy League's men's and women's lacrosse tournaments, which have the top four finishers in the regular season playing at the highest overall seed.

When the league launched the tournaments two years ago, I spoke with Ivy League executive director Robin Harris about what she hoped the event would achieve. You can read the interview here.

The tournaments were established in part to bolster the RPI of the participating teams as they jockey for NCAA Tournament bids. The Ivy League is one of the nation's top lacrosse conferences, and often gets multiple bids. A little RPI help at the end of the season can improve those seeds, and also perhaps help snatch another at-large spot.

Furthermore, both the men's lacrosse tournament has proved to have some value as a media property. In 2010, ESPNU broadcast the men's final and CBS Sports Network broadcast the women's final. Last year, streamed the men's semifinals, and ESPNU broadcast the final; and CBS Sports Network broadcast the women's final.

A men's basketball tournament would certainly be a desirable media property, whether to the ESPN family, CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network or another company. Having just four teams involved, and thus only three games, would also help simplify a rights deal.

In addition, we already know that the league is presently working on establishing a national television package for its football and basketball games. The potential of adding a basketball conference tournament to the deal could sweeten the pot.

That said, there are many steps involved in the approval process. As for how the proposal would be approved, Yale coach James Jones explained the process to Mooney and Sundel as follows:

In order to be approved, the proposal must wind its way through the Ivy League bureaucracy in a series of steps. First, the coaches must send the proposal to the conference's eight athletic directors for a vote. If the athletic directors reach a consensus to approve the motion, it then proceeds to a policy committee, consisting of university vice presidents from each school.

Following an endorsement by the policy committee, the eight university presidents render a final decision.

I have since been told by a spokesperson for the Ivy League office that the proposal will be taken up at the conference's spring meetings in May. So there won't be any action until then - and I'd be surprised if we see a tournament in the 2012-13 season, given the relatively short turnaround time from that point.

As Jones noted, there are a lot of hurdles that the proposal will have to clear in order for it to come into effect. Indeed, it could very easily be shot down at the first of them - especially if a unanimous vote of the eight athletic directors is required for approval.

I don't want to speak for Penn's Steve Bilsky, but from my experience covering the league, it would not surprise me if Penn and/or Princeton's athletic departments come out against the proposal at the May meetings.

After all, those two schools have benefitted most from the existing setup over the years, They have won the most regular season titles, and without a conference tournament in place they have thus also won the most automatic NCAA tournament bids.

I requested to speak to both schools' athletic directors and men's basketball coaches regarding their stances on the proposal.

A spokesperson for Princeton's athletic department told me that athletic director Gary Walters and men's basketball coach Mitch Henderson both declined to comment.

Penn's athletic department did not make Bilsky or Jerome Allen available for interviews. They did, however, send this statement from Bilsky:

Many coaches groups have submitted proposals for Ivy Tournaments and I'm sure the men's basketball one will receive the same consideration as has been done in the past.

Over the years there has been wide-ranging discussion on the merits of a men's basketball tournament. There are many philosophical, as well as logistical, issues and challenges to consider.

In my opinion, to date, the reasons not to have a tournamnent have been much more compelling than the reasons to sponsor one. 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. 

I'd say that confirms my hunch. We'll see where things go next month when the athletic directors get together.

As a matter of full disclosure, you all know that I have been against having a conference tournament in Ivy League basketball for a long time. I started following the league in 2002, and it didn't take me long to be convinced. Many coaches and athletic directors across the conference know my stance, as does the league office.

(As does the entire country, apparently, since's Eric Angevine decided to quote the above paragraph in his blog post about the news. Serves me right for running my mouth.)

I see that you all have taken up the subject in the comments, and I hope you'll continue the discussion. I'm going to do my best to play this as straight as I can for now, and save my analysis for when the final decision is made.

This has the potential to be a very big deal, with ramifications not just for the Ivy League but all of Division I basketball, and we don't have all the details in the public domain yet.

So stay tuned. I suspect there is quite a bit more to come.