Ivy League basketball opts to stage conference tournament next year

The famed Palestra will host the Ivy League tournament next year. (USATSI)

The last bastion of true, tangible regular-season importance in college basketball is now done.

This was likely to happen, as CBS Sports reported in December, and now it’s official: The Ivy League will move to a conference tournament format beginning in 2017. This mean’s the 2015-16 Yale Bulldog’s men’s basketball team will represent the last team in the 62-year history of the conference to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by way of winning the regular-season title.

The famed, Philadelphia-based Palestra will host a four-team Ivy League tournament in men’s and women’s hoops beginning next year. The Saturday-Sunday tournament will take place on the last weekend of the season, meaning the championship game for the men’s tournament will be held just a few hours before the Selection Show airs on CBS.

The tournament will be a four-teamer, which is something of a silver lining. The eight-team conference has had competitive races throughout its history. I can tell you, in speaking to many coaches in the league, that this was something they fought for for a long time. Getting the top four teams into the bracket should make for some drama, no doubt, but will also strip significance away from the regular season.

Next year’s tournaments will be held on March 11 and 12. The Palestra is one of the most historic places in college basketball — and also happens to be Penn’s home gym. Penn has 23 tournament bids out of the Ivy, second only to Princeton’s 24.

“The presidents adopted the proposal to establish men’s and women’s basketball tournaments after thoughtful discussions and careful review of the thorough information provided by our athletics directors and head coaches,” Yale president and chair of the Ivy League Peter Salovey said. “Ultimately, this decision was based on enhancing the overall experience for our basketball student-athletes, while also paying attention to time demands by shortening the regular season.”

Ivy League teams will reduce their regular-season slate by one game because of this move.

“The structure of our basketball tournaments is consistent with our model of college athletics and the format allows us to preserve the significance of the regular season,” Ivy League executive director Robin Harris said.

It’s a quote that will make a lot of Ivy League fans laugh, because it’s just not true. In fact, Ivy fans were the ones who were vocal against going to a tournament, so it should be interesting to see how fans respond to this news in the coming days — and a year from now. The significance of the regular season will, like it is now with all other leagues, be significantly toned down. The auto bid no longer goes to the regular-season champ. It will go to the bracket winner. College basketball has lost its last traditional champion with this decision.

In light of this news, expect an upgraded television deal for the Ivy League in the near future as well. The conference is looking to get more and more exposure in an ever-competitive landscape for college hoops on the tube and in Internet streaming.

The Ivy League has only committed to the Palestra for 2017. Powers-that-be will wait and see how that goes before deciding which way to go come 2018 and 2019. For now, the Ivy League is locked into the next three years of choosing its champion by way of a bracket.

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