The Ivy League, in its infinite wisdom, has just announced that its less than one-year-old basketball tournament will return to the Palestra in Philadelphia next season. This may have been an emotional and artistic decision, but in this writer’s view is regrettable.
The debut of the four-team tournament, on the Saturday afternoon of March 11, 2017, drew a paid attendance of 6,209, easily 2,000 under capacity. Bear in mind that this was for four games, two men’s and two women’s. Consider that few go to basketball games these days just to see the competition, without having a rooting interest in any one team, and the number is not that impressive.
Of course, there was never that many in the building at one time. As is typical of tournaments, the crowd was always in a state of transition, with followers of each team coming and going depending upon when their favorites were on the court.
Dividing the total attendance by four would attribute 1,552 per game, or 776 per team, which is hardly anything to brag about. And that was with the boost that Penn’s men’s and women’s teams provided. Take away the support from the home team’s students, who had no travel problems and could easily have walked to the Palestra from their dorms, and how much less do you think the attendance would have been?
In fact, the league was lucky that Penn upset Harvard in the same Palestra in the last game of the regular season. Otherwise, the Quakers might not even have qualified for the men’s event.
The biggest game started too early
The next day (it would be more accurate to say the next morning) the final between Yale and Princeton was observed by a reported 3,833. We are not told if the count was based on how many actually went through the door or on the number of tickets that were sold counting no-shows who had followed teams that were eliminated.
ESPN, unlike the previous day, did not have wide-angle shots showing the crowd for the championship game, a tipoff that it did not want to reveal many empty seats and show up the league and the TV sponsors.
Yale had to play two games in 18 hours
The starting time of 12-noon that Sunday was probably a concession to ESPN’s available time slots. But the early hour was also adversely affected by the changeover that morning from standard to daylight time. The players and spectators, as well as others on hand, had already lost an hour on their biological time clocks, causing that much less time to get to the Palestra, if they were still awake. Under better circumstances, a game with that much importance should have attracted a full house.
It was also more of a disadvantage to the Yale players, who had been in the second game on Saturday and had about three hours less than its Princeton opponent to recover. Two games in less than 18 hours hardly occur in the NBA, where they get paid to play.
A better venue would be Mohegan Sun
There must have been other options the league could have considered for 2018 to get a location more convenient to all the member colleges. We have previously suggested the 10,000 seat Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, where, despite its being a commercial building within a casino, there have been many college and high school basketball games played. The women’s American Athletic Conference Tournament has taken place there for the past four years,. As far as I know, there have been no reports of impressionable young men and women being poisoned by the proximity to legalized gambling.
The dates of March 10-11, 2018, another Saturday and Sunday, have been established for the 2018 event. Again, that will be in the middle of the weekend of the time change. A further problem is that the men’s final must be completed by late afternoon to allow the committee to determine the qualifiers and pairings for the NCAA tournament. Nevertheless, the Ivy League championship game should not be relegated to a noon start, especially since they played the day before. It gives hardly enough time for players and fans to recover, physically and emotionally, especially those who had not spent the previous night in the City of Brotherly Love.
There is no question the Palestra is historic, provides a great atmosphere and has earned the title of “Cathedral of College Basketball.” But it is still the home court of one of the Ivy League members and is hardly centrally located.
if only for those reasons it should be disqualaified as the venue for tournaments in which all of the teams are supposed to be getting an equally fair shake.
In summation, I raise this question. Is the purpose of the Ivy League Basketball Tournaments to crown true champions under conditions that are fair to all the teams? Or are the tournament played for the self-serving purpose of promoting one of its member’s venues, the Palestra, and, therefore the league itself?