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Without a Tournament, Ivy Hoop Season Lacks Meaning for Most

When you play basketball — or any sport for that matter — the team goal is to play for a championship. The whole season is geared toward that dénouement — that’s French; I thought we needed it for a little Ivy League street cred.

But getting on the bus this weekend to take on Penn and Princeton, the Dartmouth men’s basketball team, with its 2-6 record in the Ivies, is a miracle away from being eliminated from that chase. Unless they win out and Harvard and/or Yale get detention for some Ivy indiscretion, the title hopes of Dartmouth — and, realistically, the other five teams in the league — are done.

That’s right, with three weeks left, the season is basically over. Now what fun is that for a team? Especially when no other team in the country outside of the Ancient Eight has to live under these restrictions?

You see, the Ivies are the lone conference in America not to have a postseason tournament.

This doesn’t mean that Paul Cormier won’t coach just as hard. And it doesn’t mean that his team won’t play just as hard. It just means that the Big Green doesn’t get the chance to catch lightning in a bottle — to play giant-killers and shock the world with a tournament upset.

And that stinks. Because with the right kind of vision, this weekend’s trip could actually be a must-win opportunity for Dartmouth.

If things were different. If there was a postseason tournament.

The Ivy position has always been that the current set-up is actually a 14-game tournament. I find that laughable, if not outright insulting.

Just look at the standings today. Harvard is on top at 7-1; Dartmouth is in seventh place at 2-6. Dartmouth’s got to win out and Harvard has to lose the rest of its games. If you want to take that bet, I’ll be glad to take your money.

So no tourney means no shot. But just think about what a tourney would do.

If a postseason was in the offing, this weekend’s game at Princeton would amount to a virtual playoff game. Dartmouth, at 2-6, is just a half-game behind sixth-place Princeton. A win here would propel the Big Green into our proposed Ivy League postseason tournament. At least give them something to play for in the final three weeks outside of pride and individual memories.

It could happen, if the Ivy League had the courage to make the change.

The tourney will look like this (based on a model floated by old running mate Bruce Wood):

∎ Top six teams earn a spot in the playoffs.

∎ Top two teams get a bye.

∎ Two playoff games held at home of higher seed.

∎ Two winners move on to play in semifinals and finals at a neutral site.

∎ Winner gets automatic bid to the NCAAs.

∎ In the event the top seed falters, you take your chances that the NCAA selection committee would rectify it when choosing the at-large teams invited to the March tournament. That’s just like every other conference in America.

It’s clean, simple and would certainly add a bit of competitive edge to those heretofore meaningless late-season Ivy games.

Don’t let the Ivy presidents blow smoke about academic integrity. Finals at Dartmouth this year run from March 10-14 … right in the middle of our proposed Ivy tourney, you might point out. That might be a no-no until you realize that hockey plays through ECAC playoffs on weekends from March 7-23 and then the NCAA regionals on March 28-30 before the Frozen Four closes things up April 10-12.

Talk about missing classes.

A tournament would add money and give coaches a chance to showcase their program to potential recruits within the confines of an ultra-competitive and enthusiastic forum.

Imagine the excitement on campus if the Big Green were to sweep the Penn-Princeton weekend like they did earlier in the year.

Can you imagine what the following weekend’s home games with Columbia and Cornell would be like? Leede Arena could be a basketball gym again.

Crowds, the band, cheerleaders, a packed house. They do it everywhere else in America; why not here?

Being different is special; being out of step is embarrassing.

Don Mahler can be reached at dmahler@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.