Ivy League executive director Robin Harris came to the Palestra on Wednesday for a publicity event ahead of next week's inaugural basketball postseason tournaments. She was greeted by Penn athletic director Grace Calhoun, who used a few minutes at the podium to send Harris a none-too-subtle message.
"We'll hope to welcome large crowds in, and do all that we can to ensure that there's a proper atmosphere," Calhoun said. "We could not be more delighted to be hosting this event - it's certainly an honor and a privilege, and we hope we hit it out of the ballpark and position ourselves to get the nod in future years as well."
Penn's ability to deliver an atmosphere is probably more up to Steve Donahue than Calhoun. But it's definitely Calhoun's job to to convince the rest of the league that the Palestra should host future tournaments.
Of course, the Palestra's strengths as a host venue need little explaining to anyone. Not to the fans, certainly, and not to most league insiders. Anyone with questions need only look back to the Harvard-Yale playoff two years ago, which drew over 5,000 fans. More than enough of them came from Cambridge and New Haven to settle the matter.
Yet the league still hasn't decided where next year's tournament will be. And Harris confirmed Wednesday that the decision won't be made for another few months.
That was one of the subjects that Harris discussed in conversations today with me and a few other reporters. Here are the key questions she was asked, and how she answered them.
Grace Calhoun just said Penn wants to host this thing again in the future. What has to happen for them to do so?
Our athletic directors have a meeting in May, and we expect them all to be in attendance next weekend. And in May, we will have an evaluation of the overall tournaments [and] the atmosphere, and the athletic directors will decide as a group where to have the tournaments next year.
It's a testament to the Penn staff, led by Grace, that we are going to make the Palestra as neutral as possible. The locker rooms are going to be assigned based on each team's seed... We are going to have a lot of signage will look and feel like an Ivy League event. And then we'll evaluate how things went, in May.
Do you have a sense yet of what the criteria will be for judging the Palestra and other potential venues?
We have a variety of criteria. What's the atmosphere, what's the experience of our fans, of our student-athletes, coaches. It's how are ticket sales, how's the support from the local community. There's a lot of factors that go into it. I can't say that there's any one particular factor. And when you have eight individuals [the athletic directors] making a decision, everyone approaches it differently.
So I think it will be a very interesting and good discussion. It was easy to come here this year. This is the obvious place, and we'll just have to - I think it's certainly a front-runner for next year as we look at how we want to promote and feature our student-athletes during March Madness. It's a very special place.
If the athletic directors ask for your advice, what's your take on having the tournaments be played at a neutral site versus on the home courts of the higher seeds?
Well, the higher-seed host [format] we use in lacrosse, it certainly rewards the regular season champion - which is something that is a principle our athletic directors discussed.
One of the factors in developing a format for these tournaments is combining the men and women, so we are truly celebrating Ivy League basketball. And we are providing an atmosphere that combines [them], and provides an opportunity for our fans of men's and women's basketball. There's some overlap, and there's some separation of those fan bases. It brings them together in one spot.
If we were to go to the site of the higher seed, the regular-season champion, that could very well be different, and at different schools, and it would not allow us to bring our men and women together. One of the main reasons these tournaments were approved was to bring the men and women together.
In the conversations that have been had so far, have there been specific discussions about minimum requirements for venues in terms of size and other infrastructure factors?
We don't have any specific requirements, no.
Is there an ideal capacity range?
You know, we want to see how this goes before we know. We think this is really - 8,000 to 9,000 seats here - it seems right-sized. And we'll have to see how it goes.
You've seen that fans around the league wonder if, should this event proves successful and popular, venues like Harvard's 3,400-seat Lavietes Pavilion or Columbia's 2,195-seat Levien Gymnasium are too small to host.
We haven't made any decisions along those lines. We want to make sure as we evaluate the format this year, having four games in a day, being able to accommodate the fans. We've had great events - we had a playoff game at Yale which was phenomenal, and that holds a couple of thousand people, and it was a phenomenal environment.
[Lee Amphitheater's capacity is 3,100.]
The issue becomes: as you have more and more teams, can we accommodate the interest of the fans of those teams and have tickets for them. So there's a balancing. I'm not going to say that we have a minimum, because we want to see how things go. We don't know how things evolve over time.
When the basketball tournaments were first set up last year, there was a desire to have them be held at an Ivy League campus venue, at least to start. Have there been any conversations or thoughts by you about whether the set of potential venues may expand to include other sites, such as the arenas in Providence, R.I., and Bridgeport, Conn.?