The old building never stops being special. The Ivy League wins this weekend just by being at the Palestra — men and women, semifinals Saturday before nets get cut down Sunday in the arena off 33rd Street. You walk in any door, and basketball oozes up from the floor. Make a sound, and it never stops bouncing.
“The way sound reverberates creates an atmosphere that I think is really incredibly special,’’ said Ivy League executive director Robin Harris, noting how 1,000 people inside sounds loud and 5,500 sounds full. Dead on.
The inaugural Ivy tournament in 2016-17 was a success. The building came alive. The regular-season champs, Princeton’s men and Penn’s women, won the tournament and took their NCAA bids.
Still, I’m shocked it’s back.
Not because it’s not the best place. When it comes to Ivy campus venues, it’s the only place. This time, Penn’s men and women come in as second seeds, with Harvard’s men and Princeton’s women as top seeds. The Harvard and Penn men tied for the regular-season title, Harvard took the tiebreaker. Princeton’s women took the regular season by a game over Penn after sweeping the Quakers.
Saturday’s lineup: men, No. 1 Harvard vs. No. 4 Cornell at 12:30 p.m., No. 2 Penn vs. No. 3 Yale at 3 o’clock. Then they clear the building. Women, No. 1 Princeton vs. No. 4 Yale at 6 p.m., No. 2 Penn vs. No. 3 Harvard at 8:30.
Sunday’s games: Men’s final at noon, women’s final at 4 p.m.
A prediction: If either group of Quakers wins this year’s tournament, look for the Ivies to be somewhere else next year.
Let’s throw in an asterisk. These Ivy Leaguers have analyzed all relevant factors. Yale men’s coach James Jones, in his 19th season, alluded to that when he talked about throwing all these ideas out at his first coaches meeting, until the veteran Harvard and Dartmouth coaches told him, “Don’t you think we thought of those things? All of a sudden, you’re coming up with these big damn ideas that nobody has thought about?”
Jones had this opinion from the perspective he has this season: “I think it promotes the brand of Ivy League basketball the best. The only time it’s not great is when you’re the team playing the home team. So it’s not great for Yale basketball right now, but that’s OK because it’s the greater good.”
Everybody in the league knows that most of the campus venues simply aren’t suitable for a full-blown postseason tournament. I’ve been to them all multiple times and would argue none of the rest of them is. So if you’re not having it at the Palestra, you need to find an arena such as the one, for instance, in Bridgeport, Conn. That will cost the league extra money. It won’t necessarily bring in extra fans.
But it would be fairer.
You could argue all of these schools have the endowments to build a new place worthy of hosting, but that would be snarky. And it’s all right to have other priorities.
I was most interested in what Harvard men’s coach Tommy Amaker and Princeton women’s coach Courtney Banghart thought of being here. Competitive advantage is a legit issue here. They don’t keep score based on the greater good.
“Having it here at the Palestra has always been something that I personally have been in favor of,’’ Amaker said. “I’ve been on record saying that. I know that can be controversial in some ways, with some teams, but I do think this is a great location and a facility we’re proud of having in our conference.”
Amaker didn’t say he wanted it here every year. But he’s all right for now.
Banghart sees it differently. Her team won at Penn but lost at Harvard and Yale. She knows there are no givens on the road.
“That’s why it’s a home-court-advantage sport,’’ Banghart said, adding that last year’s tournament belonged here since Mike McLaughlin’s Penn squad had won the regular season.
“If I was Mike, I would be very quiet, and I would hope it stays, and I would take Robin Harris out to dinner, and I would take her out to breakfast and take her out to lunch and I would take all the presidents and send them flowers,’’ Banghart said.
The ADs actually vote on this issue. After Banghart noted that there are more factors than simply competitive advantage in play, including marketing the league, she was asked what her perfect scenario would be.
“I think the perfect world is hard because we have eight institutions who all have different opinions, I’m sure,’’ she said. “I don’t envision mine is more important.”
She likes sharing a neutral court, everyone together, rather than having all home courts as the Patriot League does, with the higher seeds hosting games. (I’d argue that for purely competitive advantage, the Patriot has it right.) “I think there are a few ways to do that,’’ Banghart said. “You can invite three teams, so the 1 has a bye.”
She said you could do it at a place such as Bridgeport, or St. John’s in New York. None of that is perfect, obviously. It wouldn’t necessarily grow attendance.
McLaughlin said it was his understanding that the discussions all along had been about having it here for two years if the first year worked out.
“If you want to keep it on campus, there’s no other place than the Palestra,’’ McLaughlin said.
He added that in recent years “the better team has done pretty well” in terms of a first-place team winning on the second-place team’s court — his team competing at Princeton’s Jadwin Gym and the Tigers taking care of business at the Palestra.
Fair enough. I just think Banghart’s points need to be listened to. A top seed should mean something beyond pairings, and given the caliber of the top of this league, giving that advantage away completely is a tough thing.
This old building is the best home. It just can’t be the permanent home.
“If no one thinks it’s an advantage, then we’ll take it at Jadwin,’’ Banghart said.