palestra

While the Palestra is easily the most storied arena in the Ivy League, some felt it gave Penn basketball an unfair home-court advantage during the Ivy League Tournament.

Photo: Zach Sheldon

Last year, the Ivy League tried something new.

For the first time ever, the conference held a four-team postseason men's and women's tournament to determine which teams would receive the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. And by all measures, it was a wild success.

The event, which was hosted at Penn's Palestra, looks like it will become a staple, thanks in part to the riveting games that were played. The tournament featured one overtime game, one game decided by a single basket, and several of the Ancient Eight's marquee rivalries. But what exactly is the future of the Ivy League Tournament?

For 2018, it's quite clear. The tournament will once again be at the Palestra at the end of this season, and even some of its former critics have become strong advocates for having the tournament in general.

"I was never a strong proponent of the tournament," Penn men's coach Steve Donahue said. "But after going through what we did last year personally, and then seeing what the tournament looked like at the end, I thought it was an incredible experience for three more teams that would not have experienced any postseason."

But what about the long-term prospects of the tournament? There is no commitment to a venue beyond this season, and the Ivy League has several options to choose from.

First, they can keep the tournament as is and continue to have it at the Palestra. Many coaches around the league have showcased their support for having the event at one of the most historic buildings in college basketball despite it being Penn's home court.

“I’ve been very clear and very adamant in my opinion. If we’re going to have a conference tournament, in my opinion — and no one cares what I think — but I’ve felt that we should have it here at the Palestra,” Harvard men's coach Tommy Amaker said at the end of the tournament last year. “This is a historic venue. It’s an amazing basketball facility and arena, amazing history and tradition, as we know. So for me, personally, if we’re going to do it, having this venue in our conference to me, we should rally around that and showcase that.”

Being the "Cathedral of College Basketball," the Palestra was a natural choice for the first tournament. But moving forward, the question of home-court advantage comes in to play for the Red and Blue. Penn's coaches feel that there was in fact no advantage at all.

"We're not even in our locker room, everything is shifted, people are in the area that we're in," Penn women's coach Mike McLaughlin said. "We had to adapt. It was a home court for us because we played there, but nothing else was a home court — we weren't in our locker room."

Donahue concurred.

"The whole environment was so even... I just felt it was a great atmosphere for a tournament game."

But others feel strongly that having Penn play on its home court every postseason gives the Quakers an unfair advantage.

"Well yeah [it's an advantage], when you get to play on your home court after you finish in the top four, that's going to be an advantage for you," Yale men's coach James Jones said.

For those who agree with Jones, there are two options. The Ivy League could adopt a rotating system where each Ivy school gets a chance to host, or they could go to a neutral site altogether. Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses.

If the Ivy League chooses to go with a rotating system, it would give each school the chance to showcase their own arenas. However, the league would then run into the problem of smaller venues. The Palestra is by far the largest basketball arena in the Ancient Eight, and it was filled to capacity during the tournament last year. Moving the tournament around would decrease the number of fans able to see the event live from 8,722 (the Palestra's capacity) to as low as 2,100 (Dartmouth's capacity, with most other Ivy arenas not far ahead).

However, hosting the tournament at a neutral site is certainly a viable option, and it would help to eliminate any sort of home court bias. 

"I think a neutral site somewhere in New York would be the best place. Geographically it's in the middle; there's a ton of alumni in that area. I'd be in favor of something like St. Johns where it's equal for everybody," Jones said.

Neutral venues for postseason tournaments are extremely popular for larger conferences such as the ACC or the Big Ten, but can be difficult for smaller conferences that cannot afford to pay for larger arenas.

Regardless of the path the Ivy League chooses to take, the tournament should continue to provide thrilling competition. But after this year, it's anyone's guess where it will be. 

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