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Ivies' lack of postseason tournament gives regular season more importance

Way to go, fans. I'm proud of you.

Filling Jadwin more than an hour in advance of men's basketball's slaughter of Penn Tuesday night. Covering yourselves in orange T-shirts and orange and black face paint. Standing throughout the game and screaming at the top of your lungs.


Making the building quake to its very core and shaking the floor while watching your Tigers run all over the hated Quakers.

The game meant something. The stakes were high – first place in the Ivy League and the inside track to the league's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament – and the intensity of the crowd more than matched the circumstances.

But there could have been fewer fans. Less noise. Less face paint. No need for an early arrival.

All of that would have happened if the Ivy League's automatic bid to NCAAs was decided by a postseason tournament, instead of the regular-season champ getting a ticket to the Big Dance.

The Big Ten will debut its own postseason tournament this year, leaving the Ivy League and the Pac-10 as the only conferences in Division I men's hoops that reward regular-season performance with a berth in March Madness.



If, after the 14-game conference slate, the Ivies held a tourney to determine the league's representative in NCAAs, what would Tuesday night's game have decided?

Princeton would be all but assured of the No. 1 seed in the Ivy tournament, while Penn would be relegated to the No. 2 seed.

Who would really care? Throw away the fierce rivalry and the Tigers' national ranking – the game would have meant diddly squat, and anyone who says any different doesn't fully understand the nature of college hoops in a small conference.

Let major conferences hold their postseason tournaments – by and large, those events are motivated by merchandising, marketing and ticket sales. Oh, sure, there's the occasional team that has to win the conference tournament in order to gain an NCAA berth (North Carolina State last year), but good teams in major conferences that do poorly in the postseason tournament still get into NCAAs.

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The circumstances for small conferences are much different.

In minor conferences that perennially send a single team to NCAAs, postseason tournaments make the regular season just that – regular. Weeks and weeks of conference play turn into the equivalent of exhibition baseball – games are fun, but meaningless, and all records get erased once the real season begins.

Eventually, there's a weekend of excitement – a sudden crescendo of action when it's door-die. Win and you're in; lose and enjoy your offseason. But look past the thrill and you'll see that those conferences have sacrificed months for a few days.

Take last year's Fairfield team. It was simply terrible in the regular season, finishing with a record of 8-18, good for last in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. But three wins in the MAAC tourney catapulted the Stags into NCAAs, where they were quickly dispatched by North Carolina.

What about each of the nine teams that were better than Fairfield for months – when it should have counted?

"You play four months and you do so well," Princeton head coach Bill Carmody said, "and then you don't play well for one night and you don't get a bid – it just seems ridiculous to me."

A one-night letdown in a postseason tournament should not ruin a season, but it does for many good teams in small conferences.

When winning the regular-season league championship only means getting the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, weeks of excitement go out the window.

And for small conference teams in the world of college hoops, where success is measured by NCAA appearances, No. 1 seeds in conference tourneys don't add up.