After the Palestra shone in hosting the inaugural Ivy League basketball tournament weekend this past March, the conference announced Thursday that the event will return to college basketball's most historic gym in 2018.
The decision was made by the league's eight athletic directors at a meeting this week.
"We had a great experience this past year," Ivy executive director Robin Harris said. "It was a terrific environment for our fans and our student-athletes, and Penn was very helpful in the operations. It was a very smooth operation logistically for the teams, and we would like to see how we can improve upon what we did."
As with the 2017 edition, the men's and women's tournaments will be played under the same roof on the weekend of Selection Sunday. Next March, those dates will be Saturday and Sunday, March 10 and 11. The format will remain the same, with the top four men's and women's teams qualifying for the semifinals. ESPN networks will once again broadcast all of the games.
"We received positive feedback from many different stakeholders following this year’s tournament, and we look forward to hosting an even better event in 2018," Penn athletic director Grace Calhoun said. "We are committed to providing a first-class experience for the student-athletes, coaches and fans of our Ivy peers.”
The league has made it clear that it values having the men's and women's events at the same site. It gives all the participating teams a brighter spotlight, as fans who might watch only men's or women's games can easily watch them all.
"That is definitely a major priority for the tournament," Harris said. "That is something that was a cornerstone part of the decision, that we thought it was wonderful to have our men's and women's tournaments together, and to have a true celebration of Ivy League basketball. To be able to feature the men and women in one place created synergies that were critical to maintain."
With that in mind, the Palestra has some clear advantages over other Ivy League venues.
From a logistical perspective, the fact that the Palestra has four locker rooms connected to the floor makes it easy to move participating teams in and out during the day. There are also multiple usable spaces in nearby buildings, from practice courts to rooms for alumni gatherings and media.
Other Ivy arenas don't have those facilities.
From a fan's perspective, there is the obvious benefit of the Palestra's being the Palestra. Of greater practical importance is that it's by far the Ivy's largest venue, with 8,722 seats. Princeton's Jadwin Gymnasium is second at 6,854. Cornell's Newman Arena is third at 4,473. The other five venues each seat fewer than 4,000.
This year's semifinals, all on one ticket, drew 6,200 fans. The final doubleheader drew 3,833, with Princeton's men and Penn's women cutting down the nets.
Harris said she expects those numbers to grow next year. Fans around the league likely have that same expectation, especially now that they can plan for a trip next March.
Some of those fans might claim the Palestra gives Penn a home-court advantage. But the league went to as many lengths as it can to reduce that this year. Almost every Penn logo in the seating bowl was covered with an Ivy League logo, and high seeds such as Princeton's men got to use a home-team locker room.
Some coaches, such as Princeton women's coach Courtney Banghart, weren't fully satisfied. Others, including Tigers men's coach Mitch Henderson and Harvard men's coach Tommy Amaker, pronounced themselves fans.
"Everybody wants me to say I don't like it,'' Henderson said after his team edged Penn in a thrilling semifinal that went to overtime. "And that wouldn't be true."
Amaker had a similarly strong message for fans of his team, which will likely be the preseason favorite to win the 2018 title.
"We should have [the tournament] here at the Palestra," he said in March. "I know what that means in terms of certain fans and different kinds of things, the home team, [but] I think this is above all that. ... We have a chance to make this into a very special event and opportunity each March."
Harris wouldn't say whether the vote of the eight athletic directors was unanimous, though she noted that they had "their own perspectives." She also said the coaches had some influence.
"We spoke with both coaches' groups, men's and women's, and we communicated their feedback to the athletic directors," Harris said. "The coaches were very appreciative of the whole experience that they had, and the environment. There were varying degrees of opinions on different issues, but the environment was really electric, and they appreciated that."
The league also surveyed administrators, fans and media.
"We were very, very satisfied and happy with how things went this year, and now we want to enhance and improve," she said. "So it makes sense to build upon what we already know and do for one more year."
That "one more year" clause is significant. No determination has been made yet about where future tournaments will be played, and it's clear that the league is ready to explore neutral sites.
"We've talked about a lot of of different options," Harris said. "We are making no decisions on 2019 at this point. There are various alternatives that will be discussed during the next year or so."
This much is clear: Harris intends for the league to keep the men's and women's tournaments together. That means the league will continue to pick the host venue in advance instead of playing games at the highest seeds.
"Keeping the men's and women's tournaments together means we have to have a pre-determined location, and we're not able to say we'll go to the site of the regular-season champion," she said. "Beyond that, we could come up with different formats that would work in different-sized venues."