Ivy League Deserves BracketBusters
Why the Ancient Eight can (and should) participate.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
College basketball’s annual BracketBuster weekend is usually good for one or two match-ups that have legitimate bubble implications, and this year is no different. Another more subtle way this year’s made for TV event has remained the same is the lack of an Ivy League presence in any of the games. Nearly every mid-major conference, regardless of RPI or national stature, is included in this event. But for the eighth consecutive season since the BracketBuster series was created, the Ivy League won’t be represented.
The Ivy League is No. 15 in the latest conference RPI rankings and is led by two teams with top-60 RPIs (Harvard at no. 45 and Princeton at no. 52), but neither of these teams will be participating in this weekend’s festivities. Just as Cornell could’ve been included in this event last season, both Harvard and Princeton deserve the opportunity to play a Utah State, Saint Mary’s or Wichita State on Saturday. The Ivy League’s hoops revival of the past couple seasons is regrettably going unrewarded.
I am and always will be an Ivy League dork, but this is not a case of Ancient Eight homerism (if you don’t buy it, I’d be glad to write separate, equally detailed posts listing the hundreds of reasons why I can’t stand Harvard and Princeton). The fact is, the league, as it is currently set up, physically can’t participate. According to Ivy League Associate Director of Communications Scottie Rodgers, the league must exclude itself from ESPN’s BracketBuster event because with the current structure of scheduling (begins in mid-January, games on Fridays-Saturdays thereafter) combined with a limited number of weekends to complete 14 games, “there is not enough time to have this weekend off from Ivy play and complete the league schedule in the same time.” There are complicated parameters the Ivy League bases its schedule on “that makes it difficult to make all the adjustments that would have to happen to make this weekend free.”
This makes a lot of sense. Leaving one February weekend open for its top teams to play in BracketBuster games would force the Ivy League to bump the entire schedule back one week, which, based on league policy and current scheduling constraints, is out of the question. Some of these limitations include: a later start date than most leagues, exam periods that must be respected and that differ between league members, and a strict quota on the number of missed school days allotted per school.
But there has to be a way the league can enjoy some of the perks of athletic success without sacrificing any of its academic ideals (something tells me Harvard isn’t going to damage its international reputation by participating in a BracketBuster game, but you probably get the idea).
It is one thing (and an honorable one) for the league to be proud of the quirks that separate it from every other Division I conference and to preserve the notion of the true “student athlete” (no conference tournament, no athletic scholarships, league games on Friday-Saturday nights to minimize missed classes, etc…) But in this case the league’s uniqueness is depriving some of its most talented athletes a chance to excel on a national stage while depriving its athletic departments of some much needed exposure.
Princeton and Harvard, despite what some may say, do not belong in the bubble conversation. Princeton is peaking right now, but a loss to Presbyterian in the fifth game of the season stopped any at-large conversation before it started. And Harvard has put together a solid, but hardly NCAA-worthy resume. But for argument’s sake, let’s put these two teams in a BracketBuster game. Princeton adds an at-large win over Saint Mary’s, Harvard defeats Old Dominion, and, just for kicks, last year’s Cornell team retroactively knocks off Butler (I probably would’ve given my left thumb to face the national runner-ups last February).
These hypothetical wins do not guarantee these teams a tourney bid. But at the very least, Ivy hoops is given a shot to prove itself against its main “bubble” competitors. Those are the kind of standout, profile-boosting wins that would give the Ivy League a very outside shot at becoming a two-bid league. As a former Ivy League student athlete, I appreciate that the league prioritizes the production of Nobel Prize winners over multiple NCAA Tournament entrants, but Ivy League hoops is back (for the time being), and I’m not sure enough of the country has noticed.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask or too damaging to the league’s reputation to allow its most deserving and competitive schools to participate in this event. I completely understand and respect that in the league’s current framework, participating in BracketBuster Saturday is logistically impossible. It may be difficult, but the league owes it to its players and fans to at least attempt the scheduling adjustments necessary to open up one weekend in February without interfering with its academic mission. After all, if anyone can figure out how to juggle and rearrange a complex schedule, isn’t it the Ivy League?
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.