The Ivy League has canceled the conference’s basketball tournaments just days before they were scheduled to start. It’s yet another in a series of mindless decisions by the Ivy League regarding the tournaments over the past several years.
While previous decisions — most prominently the decision to rotate the tournament between the eight schools rather than keep it at the Palestra — at least had a coherent, underlying logic to them, the decision to cancel does not.
While the coronavirus is legitimately concerning, the logical jump from wanting to limit the size of large crowds to an outright cancellation of the tournament is not obvious when there were other options on the table.
Firstly, the crowd itself would not have been that large. Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion holds just 1,636 fans. France, which has significantly more cases of the illness than the much larger United States, has capped attendance at “indoor gatherings” to 5000 people. The risk of a crowd in Boston less than a third the size of the limit in France would be rather small.
But even if the risk of infection was too high for the Ivy League, there were other options on the table. Most obviously: let the teams play without fans in attendance.
That was the decision reached by several leagues and teams around the world — most notably for Champions League soccer games in Europe. This solution minimizes the risk even further without resorting to the outright cancellation of the event itself.
That the Ivy League went against the prevailing trend of the international sports community to cancel the tournament despite the low risk attached suggests that there were other motivations for the decision, especially considering that its teams in other sports are traveling across the country to play in front of crowds much larger than the maximum capacity at the basketball tournaments. (Notably, Ivy wrestlers are still scheduled to compete in the NCAA Tournament for their sport in Minneapolis next week.)
If the risk of spreading coronavirus is low enough for Ivy teams in other sports to continue their seasons uninhibited, why was it too high for men’s and women’s basketball?
That’s the question the Ivy League hasn’t answered. My suspicion is that pressure came from the hosts. Harvard has canceled in-person classes for the rest of the year and “strongly discourage[s] gatherings of more than 25 people,” according to the Harvard Crimson.
If it was Harvard’s ability to host that was in question, the League had other options — especially with fan attendance not a logistical issue. Was it truly impossible for the conference to find a venue to play six basketball games over a weekend without fans? There are plenty of basketball courts in Boston — one or two would have certainly been able to accommodate the tournament without even requiring the reconfiguration of travel and lodging for each of the teams.
Instead, the Ivy League has decided to cancel it entirely.
The immediate response has been predictable: outrage. Fans and players alike have joined in the slamming of the decision on social media. Players, reportedly led by Penn women’s basketball, have started an online petition aimed at the conference in the hopes of a reversal. In less than two hours, the petition has received 2000 signatures, more than the capacity of Lavietes Pavilion.
“Didn’t see it coming,” Penn men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “To pull this from our kids, it’s the most horrific thing I’ve dealt with as a coach. … If they’d said across the board, we’re shutting down all sports, you’d understand.”
Penn women’s basketball coach Mike McLaughlin agreed, citing the “hypocrisy” of allowing other sports to continue.
The worst part of the decision is that it is palpably unfair to the athletes who earned a shot at keeping their seasons alive. By changing the rules by which the conference’s NCAA bid is awarded before the competition is over, the Ivy League invalidates the legitimacy of the very tournament it has defended from critics over the past three years.
I feel bad for Harvard men’s basketball, who some observers picked as the favorite over Yale in the tournament it was scheduled to host. I feel bad for the seniors who were deprived of their final games. I feel bad that Princeton women’s basketball didn’t get the chance to be the first women’s team to go 16-0 in conference play and potentially win their way into a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament, and the home game or two that comes with it. I feel especially bad for players like Penn’s Devon Goodman, who would have scored his 1000th point at the tournament and is now forced to accept that his career has finished artificially short of the mark at 998.
Simply put: The Ivy League administration has failed its players, coaches, and fans.
THEODOROS PAPAZEKOS is a College senior from Pittsburgh and a Senior Sports Reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.