Cornell's NCAA wins boost Ivies

Ivy Director discusses league-wide ramifications of Big Red’s March Madness performance

· April 1, 2010, 5:20 am   ·  Updated April 1, 2010, 12:00 am

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While the Cornell community was celebrating the Big Red’s NCAA Tournament run earlier this month, folks in Princeton, N.J., were doing the same.

No, the Princeton students weren’t the ones jumping for joy. Instead, it was executive director Robin Harris, at the Ivy League office located just over a mile from the Princeton campus, who had a smile on her face.

“We were the media darlings for a week,” Harris said.

As the first-year director discussed yesterday, it is not just Cornell, but the league as a whole that will benefit from the Big Red’s success.

“It was a very exciting time for the Ivy League,” Harris said. “[Cornell] actually exceeded even my expectations.”

Tournament expectations are often low because the Ancient Eight remains the only collegiate athletic conference in which schools cannot offer scholarships to recruits. As a result, quality of play has suffered in recent years.

But as the boys from Ithaca, N.Y., were crushing Temple and Wisconsin — of the Atlantic 10 and Big 10, respectively — they were also changing perceptions of the league in which they play.

The fact that a Sweet Sixteen team didn’t just “sweep through the [Ivy] League,” but played several close conference games and suffered a 15-point loss to Penn “raises the perceived level of play in the Ivy League,” Harris said.

“Cornell really [showed] college basketball fans and sports fans in general that it is possible to play very good basketball and do it with very good student-athletes,” she added.

Yet Cornell’s success in picking up the Ivy League’s first NCAA tournament wins since 1998 has tangible benefits for the other Ivies as well.

All eight schools now have a recent example to show recruits the level of success that can be attained in the league, which could boost the quality of incoming players.

“The way the Cornell players presented themselves as intelligent, well-spoken individuals,” Harris said, “placed the Ivy League in such a positive light.”

With the league office still in the process of negotiating a television deal, the events of the past month also helped the conference “look more attractive” to producers and potential viewers.

And then there are the monetary gains. “Units” are awarded to a conference for each game its representative programs play — the Ivies earned three. This season, a unit is projected to be worth $226,206, according to the NCAA’s latest Revenues and Expenses report. That would mean the League has over $600,000 coming its way.

Harris said that the Ivy presidents will determine how that income will be distributed and used but added that the decision-making process is only in its opening stages.

So it remains to be seen just how much and for how long Cornell’s run will help the Ivy League. But for now, Harris is simply happy it’s getting noticed.

“[Cornell] played great basketball, which brought more attention on the athletics aspect of the Ivy League,” the executive director said. “I think the academics go without saying, and sometimes we could use more attention on the athletic successes that we have.”

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