For the first year, every Division I basketball conference hosted a tournament for an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Basketball Championships. In years past, the Ivy League team with the best conference record made an appearance in the national tournament, but the League’s Council of Presidents recently approved a four-team conference tournament for rights to the automatic bid. Every other NCAA Division I conference has previously hosted its own high-stakes tournament for a guaranteed trip to March Madness.
Despite the opinions of several Princeton fans, I believe the method of selection for the Ivy League’s March Madness bid is fair. Just like all other conference champions, Princeton had to win a tournament for its automatic bid.
As we witness year after year, tournament-style play differs significantly from that of the regular season. The “win-or-go-home” atmosphere pushes teams to give it their all for a shot at the title. March Madness gets its name from the amalgamation of excitement, heartbreak, and energy associated with these high-stakes games. We can think of the Ivy League tournament as an extension of the NCAA Division I Tournament as a whole — for Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Penn this year, winning games in the Ivy League tournament was the only way to advance along the road to a national championship. Had Princeton lost this weekend, the strongest Ivy League team under pressure of tournament style play would have advanced, rightfully so.
Much of the rationale behind the adoption of a conference tournament included national recognition of the Ivy League as a basketball conference. Over the past couple weeks, all Division I conferences hosted their individual conference tournaments. Watched carefully by basketball fans across the country and reported on throughout by sports broadcasting and news organizations, these tournaments showcase the best talent each conference has to offer. For teams seeking national recognition outside of March Madness play, these conference tournaments allow for just that. Ivy Madness games were streamed live on ESPNU and ESPN2, an opportunity which rarely happens for these teams during the regular season.
Some may argue that the regular season is pointless for Ivy League teams if all it takes to make the NCAA tournament is two Ivy Madness wins, but I contend that the regular season allows for critical team development in preparation for both the Ivy League tournament and ultimately the NCAA tournament. Further, Ivy Madness only features the top four seeds in the conference, so mediocrity in the regular season will not be rewarded with postseason play and the accompanying national recognition. Lastly, the “Ivy League Champion” honors still go to the team with the best regular season conference record, regardless of its performance in the Ivy League tournament. For Princeton this year, the best team in the conference ended up with a trip to the tournament — however, some mid-major conference champions were upset in their respective conference tournaments and were not granted automatic bids to March Madness.
With Princeton’s historic wins over Penn and Yale in two very exciting games this weekend, the Tigers earned their trip to the NCAA Division I Basketball Championships for the first time since 2011. No. 12 Princeton has its first matchup against no. 5 Notre Dame — runners-up in the ACC Conference — on Thursday, Mar. 16. Best of luck to the Tigers as they fight for a national championship!
Jared Shulkin is a freshman from Weston, FL. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.