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Harvard won a dramatic one-game playoff at the Palestra last spring to clinch the Ivy League's NCAA Tournament bid, reflecting the potential excitement that could surround a conference tournament.

Credit: Riley Steele

Starting with the 2016-17 season, the Ivy League’s so-called “14-Game Tournament” will get a slight makeover.

The Ivy League Council of Presidents has voted to approve a four-team postseason tournament for men’s and women’s basketball, the league announced in a press release on Thursday. The first iteration of the tournament will take place in 2017 over two days at the Palestra with the men’s and women’s semifinal games on Saturday, March 11, and both championship games on Sunday, March 12.

“The tournament will add excitement and give an additional opportunity to spotlight our talented athletic scholars,” Penn athletic director Grace Calhoun said in a statement. “It is a special honor for the Penn community to host the inaugural championships at our iconic venue.”

Adding a post-season tournament will extend the length of the men’s and women’s seasons by one week. To compensate for this extension, each team will play one less regular season non-conference game.

“My sense is that there is broad support here for [a tournament],” Penn President Amy Gutmann said during an interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian in January. “I have spoken to Grace Calhoun about it and so I know that there is strong support here at Penn for it.”

Calhoun played an important role in the decision to implement an Ivy tournament, serving on a working committee of athletic directors and coaches that made the eventual recommendation on the tournament and its format. Although the committee was formed in fall 2014, it wasn’t until this winter that the Ivy League presidents made the final decision to approve the tournament.

The winner of the tournament will lock down the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament; however, the team with the best conference record entering the tournament will still be crowned Ivy League champion. Thus, the new Ivy League tournament’s main implication is determining whether teams will get a postseason berth, at the NCAA Tournament or otherwise.

“The sense was the four-team tournament has worked well in men’s and women’s lacrosse,” Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris said on a conference call on Thursday. “And frankly the strength of our basketball — both on the men’s and women’s sides — is quite good. There was comfort with the fourth team being a participant in the tournament.”

Although the 2017 tournament will be held at the Palestra, Harris said on the conference call that the venues for 2018 and 2019 would not be announced until after the inaugural tournament. This leaves open the possibility that the Palestra will become the tournament’s permanent home.

Concerns do still remain about a potential home-court advantage for Penn’s teams, especially if that were the case.

“Home-court advantage is significant in basketball, it’s a big deal,” Princeton women’s basketball coach Courtney Banghart told the Associated Press, although she voiced support for the tournament overall. “Not to protect your No. 1 team is odd.”

While the 14 conference games played amongst Ancient Eight teams will still be important for determining seeding in the postseason tournament, they will no longer be the deciding factor for which teams get selected to go to the Big Dance.

Instead, the victor of the post-season tournament will earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, a format that rewards teams that are “hot” at the end of the season in addition to teams that win consistently throughout the conference slate. Discussion of the potential tournament increased following the one-game playoff between Harvard and Yale at the Palestra, a game Harris cited as proof of the potential a tournament offers.

“This creates a landmark event during March Madness for our basketball student-athletes to anticipate while they are in school and to cherish throughout their lives after graduation,” Harris said in the press release.

With 2015-16 marking the final year without a tournament, Yale’s men and Penn’s women will stand as the final teams to win the Ivy League’s NCAA Tournament bid through the regular season.

“I am excited to see the Ivy League going to postseason tournaments,” Penn women’s basketball coach Mike McLaughlin said in a statement. “It’s a great opportunity for our student-athletes and the teams in our league.

“Of course, our primary goal here at Penn will be to remain among the top teams in the league and make this a yearly part of our schedule.”

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