On Oct. 3, 1951, Bobby Thomson earned his place in the history books forever, blasting a walk-off homerun and lifting the New York Giants past the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the National League pennant and advance to the World Series.
But what if the “Shot Heard ’Round the World” never took place? What if, in place of a three-game playoff at the end of the 1951 season, the baseball commissioner had simply decided which team would move on to the World Series by, for instance, picking the team out of a hat?
For starters, there would be no “Shot Heard ’Round the World” in baseball lore. But more importantly, after ending their season on an incredible 37-7 run, the Giants would have had their opportunity to play in the World Series determined by chance.
A similar fate could await the Penn, Princeton and Dartmouth women’s soccer teams. The Quakers and Big Green enter the final weekend of play with 5-1 records, while the Tigers sit atop the Ivy League standings at 6-0. Yet by beating Princeton this weekend, Penn can earn a share of the league title. If Dartmouth wins as well, then all three teams would end the season 6-1 in conference play. In that scenario, all three squads would share the Ivy League championship.
But the league can only grant one automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Looking at combined head-to-head records wouldn’t resolve the situation, since all three teams would finish 1-1 against one another. As a result, the conference needs another method for breaking the deadlock.
Thus, after months of training and a hard-fought, competitive season, the Ivy League would decide which team represents the conference in the tournament by … drumroll please … picking a team’s name out of a hat.
No, it’s not a joke. According to Trevor Rutledge-Leverenz, a league representative, Executive Director Robin Harris would draw a team’s name out of a hat — an event that would be broadcast live online — to determine which squad receives the automatic bid.
Bobby Thomson is turning over in his grave.
Not only is leaving the decision to chance unsatisfying for fans and players, but it also does not demonstrate a particularly strong commitment to sending the best possible representative to the national stage.
Ideally, a round-robin tournament would decide the recipient of the bid, but the logistical difficulties associated with this option are nearly insurmountable. It would require organizing additional matches between three teams spread throughout the Northeast and would probably just fatigue the teams before NCAA tournament play.
Nonetheless, the next-best option is not picking a name out of a hat. That should be the very last resort.
In order to send the best team to the tournament, using a quantitative basis for breaking the tie is the most compelling route. For instance, goal differential in head-to-head games could be considered. If a tie still results, then the Ivy League could look at goal differential in conference play overall.
There is an element of fairness in these methods that is missing from leaving the decision to chance. While the three teams may have identical records, their performances were not identical. In Ivy games, Princeton would be first with a goal differential of plus-11, followed by Dartmouth at plus-6 and Penn at plus-5.
The plethora of statistics available to the Ivy League can help ensure its strongest team continues on to the postseason.
Choosing a team out of a hat also fails to give respect where it is deserved: to the players and coaches of these teams. The randomness of a hat draw undercuts the thousands of hours of hard work put in by these athletes. It says that the opportunity to play in the postseason — which is the goal of virtually every athlete — is trivial and unimportant.
Might as well just pick a team out of a hat.
It’s not that the Ivy League administration should be held at fault for following the official rules. But conference officials need to use this occasion as an opportunity to rethink their rulebook and its policies on the subject of tiebreakers — and that can happen regardless of what plays out this weekend.
People don’t leave the things they care about most up to chance. The Ivy League shouldn’t either.
KENNY KASPER is a sophomore philosophy major from Santa Rosa, Calif., and is associate sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.
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