The Ivy League is the only conference in the country that determines the recipient of their automatic bid through regular season standings.
There is no Ivy League tournament. The winner of the regular season gets a bid to the Big Dance, and the structure couldn’t be more ideal. There are eight teams in the Ivy League, and every team plays every other team twice; once on their home floor and once on the road.
There isn’t a more accurate was of determining a conference champion. It is impossible to argue with the notion that the winner of a double round-robin in league play is that league’s best team.
But this spring, there is a push within the league the change the format of determining the conference champion. A proposal has been pushed forward by the league’s coaches to create a four-team tournament to win the league’s automatic bid.
The isn’t a new occurrence. Every couple of years, something of a similar nature is proposed. And up until now, it hasn’t gone through. In all likelihood, this proposal won’t go through, either: it still has to pass two more stages before it is even voted upon by the league’s presidents.
But it may be something that the conference wants to consider.
As entertaining as conference tournaments are for the fans to watch, the bottom line is that they aren’t always fair in regards to who makes the NCAA tournament. Teams that are good enough to win a game in the Big Dance are forced to settle for a trip to the NIT because they don’t have a profile strong enough to get an at-large bid. Drexel, Oral Roberts and Middle Tennessee State were victims this season. There is a good chance that Harvard, had they been forced to play a conference tournament after the regular season, would not have earned the Ivy’s automatic bid.
But if we are being frank here, than it must be noted winning a small conference’s regular season does not guarantee success in March. And finishing outside of the top spot in those conferences does not preclude a team from NCAA tournament success. George Mason needed an at-large bid to earn a No. 11 seed when they reached the Final Four in 2006. Same with VCU in 2011. Butler won the Horizon’s automatic bid in 2011 when they made their second consecutive national title game as a No. 8 seed, but they wouldn’t have been dancing had the Horizon not had a conference tournament.
For the most part, these teams are going home after the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
And while it may make mathematical sense to determine the league’s best team through regular season standings, what gets that league more publicity: seeing the regular season champ lose in the first round as a No. 14 seed or seeing the league’s fifth-place finisher make a run to the national title game — which gets aired on ESPN — before losing as a No. 16 seed.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that both the regular season conference champ and the conference tournament champ should get automatic bids to an expanded tournament. My proposal can be found here. But given the current structure, I think that having a conference tournament is not only more exciting, it is beneficial in regards to the amount of publicity the league receives.