Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cornell Men, Princeton Women, End Of Story

So this is championship week, huh? Nice name for it. Quickly, though, can you name a championship game from a one-bid conference that you actually remember? Something that really stood out for its drama?

No? Neither can TigerBlog. In fact, the North Carolina-Duke men's lacrosse game on ESPNU last night was more interesting to TB, and he watched more of that game than he has of every conference tournament combined.

Every year, there are those who argue that the Ivy League should add a tournament for men's and women's basketball. The Ivy League, it is pointed out, is the only Division I league that does not have a postseason tournament.

TigerBlog makes the opposite argument. Unless you're a league like the ACC or the Big East or the SEC where your tournament is a big money-maker, how in the world can a tournament even remotely be justified?

When championship week first came along, it was a pretty good idea for ESPN. Take every conference championship game and put it on one of the ESPN networks, and shortly everyone started to tune in.

Princeton used to play Virginia in lacrosse this week, and every other year when Princeton was in Charlottesville for the game, TigerBlog made sure that he got to the hotel in time to watch the Patriot League final, which was on that Friday at 4. After that was the ACC tournament and the Big East tournament and other major conference events.

Over time, though, it all started to look the same. Somebody won. They celebrated. Their students got all dressed up with school gear and painted faces, all in the name of getting on television.

Back then, the championship games were usually the only games that those leagues would get on television. Then, the entire landscape of college basketball evolved.

Today, you can't turn on the TV on any night from November to February without having 25 college basketball games on 25 different networks. And, with all of the channels available everywhere, you're as likely to be able to see, say, Western Kentucky at North Texas as you are a local game.

The effect of conference tournaments is that the regular season means next to nothing in the one-bid leagues. In the multi-bid conferences, the regular season means a little more in terms of locking up spots in the NCAA tournament, but it's really all about the three weeks in March.

Take the Big East. Syracuse and Georgetown play today in the quarterfinals. Does it really matter who wins? Both teams are locks for the NCAA tournament, and the Big East tournament will really only affect seedings. What's more important than that, though, are the matchups you get. Georgetown as a fifth-seed could be a better position to make run deep into the tournament than it might as a third-seed if it has to play teams it may or may not match up with.

Sure, every now and then a team will make a run through a major conference and steal its automatic bid, knocking out another bubble team somewhere. But even then those teams never make a run deep into the NCAA tournament.

In one bid leagues it's amazing to TigerBlog what will be done in the name of having one game on ESPN. A game, by the way, that is probably lost in a sea of other games just like it.

There are three points that TB feels speak to not having conference tournaments.

First, the argument that teams that are eliminated early on during the regular season in the Ivy League deserve a chance at the end doesn't fly. Your motivation might not be making the tournament at that point, but athletes have an obligation to play their hardest at all times, regardless of the situation.

Next, a one-bid league will really make a name for itself only if its champion wins a game in the NCAA tournament. Or, even better, two games. How is a league going to do this? By sending its best team to the tournament, not the third-place team that snuck in by getting hot for three nights.

Lastly, and if you disagree with TB on the first two this is the most important, the regular season champion has earned the right to go to the NCAA tournament. It's taken two months of league games to get to this point; do you want to invalidate all of that effort?

Look at the Ivy League this year.

Were there a women's tournament and the top four seeds all won, the semifinals would be Princeton vs. Yale and Harvard vs. Columbia. Suppose Princeton then beat Yale and had to play one of the other ones. Princeton has already beaten both twice, but it's hard to beat a team three times. And suppose someone from one of the other teams got really hot on one night and knocked down 10 three's or something like that?

Look at the men's side. The semifinals if form held would be Cornell vs. Yale and Harvard vs. Princeton. Suppose Princeton or Harvard stole the championship game from the Big Red? How in the world would that be valid?

Princeton's women and Cornell's men are right on the cusp of being at-large worthy, but a loss in an Ivy League tournament would end those hopes.

TigerBlog apologizes if he's beaten this subject to death here, but as championship week rolls on, it's become more apparent to TB that his position is correct.

Cornell's men have earned the right to go to the NCAA tournament. Same of Princeton's women.

Only two things could come out of an Ivy tournament. First, that status would be reaffirmed, but at the cost of winning three games (probably in three days). Or, second, something would happen to deny the league of having its legitimate winner go.

And don't mention the Ivy lacrosse tournaments, which are designed to give the leauge a chance to have as many teams get at-large bids as possible.

No, in basketball, the Ivy League does it right. Hopefully the rest of college basketball will start to follow.


Anonymous said...

Tournaments are fun for the players, who this is all about. They are fun for the fans. The Ivy League is missing out.

Anonymous said...

What are your feelings on the Ivy League Baseball Championship Series?

Princeton OAC said...

TigerBlog likes the Ivy League Baseball (and Softball) Championship Series. They're completely different than basketball, because only two teams are competing and you're still rewarding the teams that won their division championship. Yes, TB knows it might be hypocritical, because the winner of the series often is a team with the third or fourth best record in the league, but it's not a complete devaluation of the regular season.

Perhaps if basketball wanted to have a championship game where the regular-season No. 1 team hosted the No. 2 team, that might be okay. This year, it'd be Princeton at Cornell men and Harvard at Princeton women.

Anonymous said...

I concur with your position, TB.

If the Ivy League ever feels compelled to hold a basketball tournament, they should give the top seed a bye into the finals--or if two teams tie for best record, give them both byes into the semifinals.