A great many people have expounded on the purity of Ivy League basketball throughout the years. The Ivies, they say, are the last bastion of the true student-athlete. Only in the Ancient Eight can you find players who genuinely want an education, who are playing simply for the love of the game and not just to try to springboard themselves to the NBA. After the game, Krug sat at the press conference and said yes, he was sorry The Streak was history. But the worst part about the defeat was the potentially serious crimp it put in Penn's chances for an Ivy League title. The Quakers finished the weekend tied for first place with Princeton, with the Big Green a half-game behind. It appears that unlike the last three seasons, when they cruised to a title, the Quakers will have to scrap and scrape for a fourth-consecutive championship in a stretch run that should be an example of why the Ivy League's regular season is the most compelling of the 34 conferences in Division I college basketball. More than half the conferences in Division I, including the Ivies, can expect to send only one representative to the NCAA Tournament. The Ancient Eight is the only one of these conferences without a season-ending tournament that decides the official champion and NCAA representative. The end result for all the more obscure conferences that do have tournaments is often a moot regular season. This has been a problem ever since 1970, when the Atlantic Coast Conference -- which then was allowed to send only one team to the NCAAs -- saw South Carolina rip through the entire conference on its way to a 14-0 regular-season record. But the No. 3 Gamecocks had one bad day and were upended by N.C. State in the ACC tournament, killing their dreams of a national championship before the NCAAs had even begun. Imagine the last three years if the Ivy League had a tournament. Penn fans would have watched their team go 14-0 each season knowing that wondrous achievement did not mean one iota in the grand scheme of things. One bad outing in a stretch of three conference tournament games could have ended the Quakers' season on the spot, despite all the hard work and sacrifice they had given in the regular season. Scenarios like that one occur every single year in the low-profile conferences. It is guaranteed each season that a team will go 14-0 or 15-1 or 16-2 in the North Atlantic Conference, Patriot League or Northeast Conference and still not be rewarded for its efforts with an NCAA bid because of one bad game in the conference tournament. The Big 10 and Pac-10, like the Ivies, have refrained from having a tournament. But those conferences can not match the Ancient Eight for sheer regular-season drama. Indiana versus Michigan is a great rivalry with a tremendous amount of emotion involved, but nine years out of 10 both of those teams know, given their reputation, that they have spots locked up in the 64-team NCAA field even before the season starts. Like the ACC, Big East and all the major conferences that do have championship-deciding tournaments but can also expect to get a number of at-large NCAA bids, the games involving the top teams in these leagues are for pride and a higher seed in the Big Dance. The Ivy League is the only conference in all of Division I basketball with the aura of an old-fashioned major league pennant race surrounding every game. Eight teams vying for one postseason berth over the course of an entire regular season. This year's race looks like it will go down to the wire, with Penn, Princeton and Dartmouth all having legitimate shots at the crown. That is the main reason one measly loss to Dartmouth hurt like it did. The Quakers have home games coming up against the Big Green and the Tigers that should have the Palestra bursting with emotion and energy. Princeton will be in town March 5 for the last game of the season. It is entirely conceivable that game will feature two 12-1 arch-rivals on national television. The winner will have a championship banner and an NCAA invitation all for itself. The loser will have nothing but an excellent season that came up one win short. That game could be one of the more remarkable athletic events in the lives of all those lucky enough to be in attendance at the Palestra. But if the Ivy League had a tournament, what would be at stake? A great deal of pride, certainly, but the only tangible reward would be the top seed in the tournament and a first-round game against Columbia instead of Cornell or Yale. The sports fan in all of us naturally feels a measure of disdain for policies -- such as the lack of scholarships or not being eligible for the national playoffs in football -- designed by the Ivy League's ruling junta to de-emphasize athletics in relation to the rest of the college sports world. In the case of the absence of a conference basketball tournament, however, the sports fan in all of us should be thankful.Comments powered by Disqus
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