Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Soccer Showdowns

TigerBlog figured he'd write today about the last time he went to a winner-take-all game between Princeton and another league rival for an Ivy title and NCAA tournament automatic bid.

Only he can't remember going to one.

Oh sure, there have been variations on the theme. In fact, TigerBlog has been to a bunch of men's basketball games between Princeton and Penn that have fit into one of two categories:

1) last game of the regular season, one team a game up on the other, if that team wins then it has the championship, if that team loses then it's co-champions and a playoff for the NCAA bid
2) the playoff game itself, except while there is a huge prize to the winner, it's not a winner-take-all game for the league championship, since the league considers the regular-season winners to be co-champs

TigerBlog has referred to the 2008 and 2009 Princeton-Brown men's lacrosse games as "Ivy League co-championship games," since the winner was guaranteed a share of the Ivy title with Cornell both times. And last year's regular-season ending game between Princeton and Cornell led to a four-way share for the championship.

The 1991 football game between Princeton and Dartmouth was winner-take-all for the league championship. Dartmouth came into the game at 5-0-1 in the league, having tied Harvard, while Princeton was 5-1-0, with a loss to Harvard (who had lost to Cornell and so was 4-1-1 heading into the last week of the season).

Dartmouth, led by the Ivy League Rookie of the Year Jay Fiedler, beat Princeton 31-13. Yale beat Harvard, but the Crimson had been mathematically eliminated beforehand anyway.

Nope, TB can't remember a winner-take-all game for the league title and NCAA bid.

And now this Saturday on Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium, there will be two of them (sort of).

Back-to-back. And with no admission charge.

It's a Princeton-Penn soccer doubleheader with a lot at stake this Saturday, beginning with the women's game at 4 and followed by the men's game at 7.

Basically, it's like this: On both the men's side and women's side, Princeton and Penn are playing for the championship, and every other team for both genders has been mathematically eliminated.

Ivy League soccer, like the English Premier League, awards three points for a win and one for a tie. Penn, at 4-1-1, has 13 points. Princeton, at 4-2-0, has 12 points, which means:

* a Penn win or tie would give the championship and NCAA bid to the Quakers
* a Princeton win would give the championship and NCAA bid to the Tigers

Simple, no?

For the men, Princeton and Penn have more than doubled the point total of any other league school. The Tigers and Quakers are both 5-0-0 in the league for 15 points, while Brown, who is 0-2 against Princeton and Penn and 10-0-3 against the rest of the world, has seven points at 2-2-1.

The men actually have two weeks left, so Princeton will be at Yale and Penn will be home with Harvard on Nov. 13.

Still, should there be a winner of the Princeton-Penn game, that team would be guaranteed a share of the Ivy title and would have clinched the league's automatic bid to the tournament. A tie would mean, obviously, that the teams are even with 16 points apiece heading into the final week, so yes, this technically isn't a winner-take-all situation.

But hey, it's close enough.

Princeton and Penn both appear to be locks for the NCAA tournament, along with Brown, regardless of the outcome of the league winner. Penn, at 12-3, is ranked 13th nationally, while Princeton is 16th and Brown is 17th.

Still, the league title is special, and the automatic bid could mean a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament.

When schedules are made way in advance, there's no way of knowing if the games at the end of the year will be for championships or will have no significance in the league race.

Back in August, when temperatures were in the 90s and Ivy soccer teams started practicing, 16 teams on the men's and women's side were hoping they'd be the last one standing.

Now it's down to four, two from Princeton and two from Penn, all of whom will be playing on Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium Saturday afternoon/evening.

This is something that doesn't happen very often.

Don't miss it.


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