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The Penn men's basketball team of 1978-79 was the last Ivy League team to reach the NCAA Final Four. As the Penn men's basketball team enters its 1998-99 campaign, the players and fans hope this will be the year Penn ends its four-year hiatus from NCAA Tournament action. Some Penn fans are looking even further, wondering if it would be possible for the Quakers to not only make the NCAA Tournament but also to do some damage. Maybe even do the improbable -- make the Final Four. The last time an Ivy League team made the Final Four was in 1979, when Penn defeated Iona, North Carolina, Syracuse and St. John's en route to an unlikely Final Four appearance. Since then, however, college basketball -- more specifically Ivy League basketball -- has drastically changed. These changes pose an interesting question: can an Ivy League team make it to the Final Four again? The Ivy League fan's hopeful answer would be yes, because anything can happen. Nevertheless, certain factors have arisen that decrease the likelihood of it becoming a reality. The two biggest factors are the high price of an Ivy League education and its effect on the Ivy League's ban against giving athletic scholarships. "We priced ourselves out of Division I major college basketball," Bob Weinhauer, who coached the Quakers in 1979, told The Daily Pennsylvanian in 1994. "When I first came to Penn in 1972, it probably cost somewhere between $4,000 and $6,000 a year to go to Penn. If guy was a full need, it cost his family $800 to $1,000 a year." As everyone knows well, it now costs over $30,000 a year to attend Penn. Even a great financial aid package cannot reduce the cost enough to convince most star athletes to turn down a full scholarship elsewhere. Back in 1979, it was conceivable that a top athlete might turn down a full scholarship to get a Penn education for less than $1,000 with a good aid and loans package. "I don't think Penn could get players like Bobby [Willis] or Tony [Price] or me anymore," 1979 Penn graduate and forward Tim Smith said. "It's pretty pricey right now. I can't see them getting back to the caliber of play back in the '70s, '80s or even '90s, so it's going to be really difficult to do that again." Considering the scholarship offers they received, the West Philadelphia High legend is certainly correct. Without Willis, Price and himself on the 1979 squad, Penn would have been even more unlikely candidates to make the Final Four. "My mother used to say that I had a shopping bag full of letters," Price said. "I think I could have gone to almost any school I wanted to, with a few exceptions. North Carolina didn't recruit me. UCLA wasn't recruiting me, but Lefty Driesell recruited me at Maryland." Despite the Ivy League's inability to give athletic scholarships, all Ivy League schools do give need-based aid. Therefore, significant financial aid packages -- even with today's high financial costs of attending an Ivy -- keep the possibility alive that an Ivy team could attract superb athletes. "I get a lot of money here [at Princeton] and if that weren't the case I wouldn't be at an Ivy League school," Princeton senior Brian Earl -- who helped lead the No. 8-ranked Tigers to the NCAAs last year -- said. The biggest factor working for the Ivy League is its prestigious academic reputation. "I think with the emphasis that is being put now on academics, that it will conceivably be possible again," All-Ivy point guard James Salters, a 1980 Wharton graduate, said. "If you have a lot of inner city kids who have good grades and want a good education first, it could happen. If the program is really going after the kids who have good grades and can qualify financially to attend the University, they can build a good program." Although no Ivy League team has been able to return to the Final Four since 1979, two teams in recent history have been ranked nationally and posed a possible threat for an Ivy League return. In 1994, the Quakers entered the NCAA Tournament nationally ranked and as a No. 11 seed. In the opening round, Penn defeated Nebraska, 90-80. Two days later, they played a close game, but ultimately lost 70-58 to Florida, an eventual Final Four participant. "We had to play four very, very good basketball games [to make the Final Four]," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "That would have put us in the Sweet 16 if we beat Florida, and then we would get two other really difficult teams to beat. You just have to play almost flawless basketball that's not true of only Penn in '94, but Florida had to play almost flawlessly for them to get there." The second team that showed a possibility of repeating Penn's 1979 performance was Princeton's 1998 squad. "Princeton was extremely well coached, and what they did was so successful," Orlando Magic coach Chuck Daly, who coached Penn from 1972 to 1977, said. "I don't think they were quite as talented as those [Penn] teams [of the 1970s]." Entering NCAA Tournament action, the Tigers had lost only one game, a 50-42 defeat at North Carolina. Princeton was rewarded for its near-perfect regular season with a four seed in the East bracket -- a significantly higher seed than the 1979 No. 9-seeded Quakers received. "The way Princeton has played the last couple of years I think Princeton was certainly a team that could have gotten to the Final Four, and I don't think it would have been that shocking," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. Boeheim's 1979 team was defeated by the Quakers in the Sweet 16, while his 1992 team beat Princeton in the first round, 51-43. Princeton easily disposed of UNLV in the first round by the score of 69-57. Michigan State then defeated the Tigers 63-56 in the second round. Unlike Penn's loss in 1994, however, Princeton was actually favored to win that game and advance to the Sweet 16 to face North Carolina. "Looking back on it, we could have made it [to the Final Four] last year," Earl said. "Sometimes Ivies are undersized, but one of the elite [Ivy] teams that comes along every few years could possibly put it together." Although the 1994 Quakers and the 1998 Tigers at least had the potential of making a tournament run, neither team came closer than the round of 32. However, past results mean little once the next year's tournament gets under way. Given the right personnel and the right breaks, almost anything can be possible in the NCAA Tournament. "It's all a matter of chemistry," Willis said. "There's a tremendous amount of athletes out there with both the academic and the athletic skills. It's a matter of getting enough kids in the same graduating class. If you can get enough quality kids coming in, and they get the support around them in the other classes, a good team can make a run." Although the 1979 Penn team possessed more natural talent than today's Ivy teams are likely to attract, they needed more than their share of luck to reach the Final Four. And when luck comes into play, anything is possible. Just ask Bobby Willis. "If it happened once, it could happen again."

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