When I went home for Thanksgiving break a few weeks ago, I engaged in all of the holiday-season small talk with family that one might expect.
Yes, I was enjoying life at school. Yes, I was taking interesting classes. Yes, I was getting along with my roommates.
And yes, I was still writing for the school paper. Oh, and by the way, our football team just won the Ivy League title. Pretty neat, huh?
That little tidbit always got some impressed raised eyebrows — after all, an Ancient Eight crown sounds like a big deal to the casual fan, and rightfully so.
But then, I had to explain that the title of ‘Ivy League Champions’ came with a bit of a catch: First place was actually split three ways, between Penn, Harvard and Dartmouth.
To an outsider, this outcome is laughable. The value of a championship is clearly diluted when nearly half of a conference can claim to be the top team. mocking the gusto with which the Quakers celebrated their three-way tie. And I know that my family snickered when I revealed that the title was ostensibly much less impressive than I had originally let on.
A lot has been made in the last week of the need for an Ivy basketball playoff. That debate has valid points on both sides. Some oppose it, citing tradition or lack of cultural interest, while proponents say it could provide a more satisfying conclusion to the season and could make for must-watch TV. I will not pick sides on that debate here, but I do believe that similar discussion should take place when it comes to football.
Ivy basketball has already more or less resolved this co-champion problem out of necessity. Because there is only one automatic NCAA Tournament berth to be had, Ivy hoops must play a tiebreaker game if multiple teams are tied atop the standings at season’s end. One may recall Harvard’s thrilling buzzer-beating win over Yale at the Palestra in such a game last March.
And while, in name, Harvard and Yale split the Ivy title last season, everybody knew who the conference’s real champion was. The Crimson got to live lavishly with a March Madness bid while the Elis were booted from postseason competition altogether.
Is the current basketball “playoff” system the prettiest thing around? No, of course not. But at least it results in a clear number one team at the end of the year.
None of this should come as a dig at Ray Priore’s underdog squad (or perennial powerhouse Harvard or uber-talented Dartmouth). All three teams played excellent seasons and have plenty to be proud of. They all — and Penn especially — have absolutely nothing to apologize for when it comes to their 2015 campaigns.
I just can’t imagine that any of the three squads would turn down a chance to find out which one of them truly, undisputedly, is the conference’s best.
Settling for ties isn’t in their nature as football players, Ivy League students or competitors. Thus, it is imperative that the Ivy League come up with some system — a playoff, a tiebreaker, something — to make sure that first place means just that: The best. Superior to all others.
For Penn, celebrating on the field after that victory over Cornell felt good enough as it was. Imagine how nice it would be with no asterisk attached.
And for students such as myself, it would save a whole lot of explaining at the Thanksgiving table.
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