Sports editor Ross Chapman has had many exes over the years, but none of them have scorned him quite so harshly as Ivy League Basketball. In this open letter, he explains why – and yes, it has to do with the possibility of a threeway.
To Ivy League Basketball,
You drive me wild. These days, I can’t shut up about you when I’m with my friends. Every weekend, I get to see you and you fill me with joy. You make me scream, you make my heart race. When I’m not with you, I think about you. I stalk for any mention of you on social media, and I fantasize about our future. In short, I love you.
And that’s why we need to talk.
You keep too many secrets from me. All I do is shower you with love, attention, and ticket sales, but when I need something from you, you can’t even give me the time of day. Case in point – the possibility of an Ivy League tie. For the first time in our lives together – no, for the first time in your whole life – we’re looking at the possibility of a three-way. (An Ivy League tie, I mean.) I’m so excited to be a part of this, even if I really couldn’t care for the others involved. But I want to know how this is going to work, and for weeks, you’ve been silent. I need you to communicate with me.
If you need a reminder about this important life event of ours, let’s review. Right now, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia are at the top of the Ivy League standings at 9-1, 8-1, and 8-2, respectively. These are three great teams, who are all in a position to reach the NCAA tournament. The short version of this story is that if Columbia wins their next four games, there could be a three-way tie at the top of the standings at 12-2, which has never happened before.
“But Ross,” you whine, “didn’t I tell you about how I did this in 2003? My life didn’t start when you walked in.” Well, no, Ivy, this is different. When Penn, Princeton, and Yale were tied at the top in 2013 at 11-3, Penn had swept Yale earlier in the season. That was a clear indicator that Penn was better than Yale, and because of that, Penn got the advantage of a bye in the three-team tournament. But this year, there might not be that clear indicator.
Maybe you remember when your twin sister did this in 2008, leaving all parties unsatisfied. It was a mess. Women’s basketball, when it faced a three-way tie with no head-to-head tiebreaker, it flipped a coin. By virtue of luck alone, Cornell got the bye, and surprise, they defeated the worn-out Dartmouth easily. I don’t think you should ever need anyone to tell you this, but you shouldn’t repeat the mistakes of your sister’s three-way.
Of course, a lot more people care about men’s basketball than women’s basketball. So while the 2008 incident didn’t spark any national attention, a similar event this year would be disastrous. Ivy, you’re more popular now than ever, with a personal record number of national broadcasts and a level of hype for these top three teams not seen since the Princeton of the 1990’s. This is a huge opportunity for you, and you can’t screw it up.
That’s why I just want you to tell me what’s going on. I deserve to know – everyone deserves to know – what boundaries you’re going to set. It’s totally unfair to the teams to be tight-lipped about tiebreaker policies. For instance, if you decided to use point differential between the top teams to give a bye, that would have been okay if we knew from the start. But it’s unfair to tack that on at the last minute. If the Lions knew that point differential would be used as a tiebreaker, they probably wouldn’t have fouled so egregiously in the last four minutes of their game against Yale. The goal of basketball is to win. If we had known that the goal of basketball instead was “to win, but if you’re going to lose, not to lose by too much,” we would have played differently. When you don’t release any information on tiebreakers, you force yourself to make some arbitrary decision at the end which is bound to make people upset. And no, flipping a coin at the end of the season is not the solution.
Should it surprise anyone that the Ivy League is bad about being transparent? I really hope you’re not trying to do anything funny here, Ivy. Is this all some plot to get us so mad that we abolish the current system and create a postseason tournament? Are you trying to rig the coin flip so that Princeton gets a bye? Are you actually just so incompetent that you think that a coin flip is the best way to handle this problem? Even if this scenario doesn’t happen this year, it’s a terrifying problem that it could exist in the first place.
I say this all because I love you. Sometimes, I wish I didn’t. You have a way of making me mad, of bringing me down, of building up my hopes and then smashing them with a Justin-Sears-shaped hammer. But I care about you too much to see sports outlets across the country yelling at you and calling you an idiot and making awful “Ivy League” jokes. Talk to us. Tell us what you’re thinking. Let’s make this possible three-way the best it can be.
Signed, with unfortunately unconditional love,
The object of our affections via Columbia University Athletics/Mike McLaughlin