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Penn's remaining contests were a home battle with the Lions and a trip to Old Nassau. With no conference tournament, Penn needed only a win to get to the NCAA Tournament, not just the top seed in the league bracket. They fell in overtime at the Palestra and were routed at Princeton's old Dillon Gym. Columbia's subsequent victory over Brown put the Lions into a first-place tie with Penn with just one game to go on the league slate -- a clash between the Tigers and Bears at Dillon. A Princeton win would make a three-way logjam atop the standings. The result was as close as Ivy League basketball -- men's or women's -- has ever come to a three-way tie. When Princeton defeated the Bears by 19 points, there was indeed a three-way tie -- for the Eastern Intercollegiate League title. Although the Ivy League agreement had been signed and there was a 1955 All-Ivy team, Ancient Eight play did not officially start for another two years. "We in this office, to keep things clean, recognize the 1956-57 season as the first [Ivy League season]," Ivy League Associate Director Chuck Yrigoyen said. So, as this 1999-2000 season draws to a close, it seems as though something unprecedented might be about to happen. If the Penn women's basketball team wins its final three games and Harvard can pull out a win at Dartmouth on Tuesday, then the three frontrunning schools will finish the season tied for first place. The situation has the folks at Ivy League headquarters in Princeton scrambling for their policy manuals, trying to work out all of the hypothetical situations and prepare for the possibility of a three-way playoff. "[The playoff] likely would be Thursday and Saturday of next week," Yrigoyen said. "That's not set in stone yet. We're still talking to see if it would be [better] Friday-Sunday or Thursday-Sunday. The manual says Thursday-Saturday at a neutral Ivy site so you're not going somewhere else to play the second game." Such a playoff would determine who gets the Ivy League's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, making the regular season more valuable than the chase for a conference tourney's top seed. This is much more serious than what the Ivy League does in volleyball, a sport whose regular season amounts to little more than an arduous preparation for the Ivy Tournament. But the fun here really starts when it's time to determine which team would get the first-round bye in the event of the three-way playoff. "The determination of the bye would be first to take the tied teams' records against each other," Yrigoyen said. That means that the frontrunners' records against each other would be the first tiebreaker. But the Crimson, Green and Quakers would be 2-2 against each other in such a scenario. So, the tie-breaking process continues. "Then you go to the next team in the standings and compare head-to-head records of those three schools against that school. If there's still a tie, you go to the next team. The way the tiebreaker is written is that you go to the next team in the standings." Yrigoyen said. There were no such concerns 45 years ago. Penn and Columbia had already settled into their tie while Princeton still had a game to go, so -- almost purely out of convenience -- the Quakers and Lions faced off in a playoff game at a neutral site -- Dillon Gym. The playoff game was slated to follow the Princeton-Brown tilt. If Princeton won, there would be another playoff game between Princeton and the Penn-Columbia winner. A Brown victory would send the victor of the nightcap to the NCAAs. Princeton won to force the three-way tie and Penn's collapse wrapped up with a two-point loss to Columbia. Two days later, the Tigers, who had been two games out with two to play, advanced to the NCAA Tournament by beating the Lions at Rutgers. After last Friday night's loss, Penn's women were two games back with four to play. They now stand to once again prove the worth of not having a conference tournament as they attempt to come all the way back to clinch the Ivy crown. Were there a conference tournament to follow the season, the teams would simply be seeded, and then maybe a team like Cornell could suddenly heat up and nullify what has been a glorious regular season. There's just no reason to have one. Between the men and women, there have been 16 EIL and Ivy tie-breaking playoffs since the first between Penn and Princeton in 1916. Hopefully, that will remain the only sort of playoff that the Ivy League will ever need.

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