Ivy League cancels women’s basketball tournament due to coronavirus

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 10: Bella Alarie #31 of the Princeton Tigers and Essence Brown #32 of the George Washington Colonials tip off the ball during a women's basketball game at the Smith Center on November 102019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 10: Bella Alarie #31 of the Princeton Tigers and Essence Brown #32 of the George Washington Colonials tip off the ball during a women's basketball game at the Smith Center on November 102019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

Regular-season champion Princeton will represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament

The global coronavirus outbreak has prompted the Ivy League to cancel its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments scheduled for this weekend, the league announced on Tuesday. Harvard University, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was the designated host institution under a system that rotates hosting duties annually among the league’s eight teams.

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Ivy League executive director Robin Harris said in the announcement, “We understand and share the disappointment with student-athletes, coaches and fans who will not be able to participate in these tournaments. Regrettably, the information and recommendations presented to us from public health authorities and medical professionals have convinced us that this is the most prudent decision.”

The women’s tournament was set to feature No. 1 seed Princeton, No. 2 seed Penn, No. 3 seed Yale, and No. 4 seed Columbia, with the semifinals on Friday, March 13 and the final on Saturday, March 14. Instead, Princeton, the regular-season champion, will receive the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, where the team is projected to be a No. 5 seed.

The result effectively returns the Ivy League to how it operated just four years ago, before the four-team conference tournament was instituted starting in the 2016-17 season. In 2017, Penn captured the league’s first conference tournament title, and Princeton has won the past two. This was to be Columbia’s first-ever appearance in the tournament and Yale’s second, one year after the Bulldogs finished in a tie for fourth place but missed the conference tournament based on tiebreakers.

In a statement released by the university, Columbia head coach Megan Griffith said,

"“The decision to cancel the Ivy League Tournament is disappointing news for our Columbia community and every other school in our league. All of our student-athletes work tirelessly all season to be able to compete in March and earn an opportunity to represent our conference in the NCAA Tournament. … My heart goes out to all programs, student-athletes and coaches, especially seniors who are facing the end of their careers.”"

Princeton head coach Carla Berube expressed similar sentiments, saying in part:

"“We understand that the well-being and safety of the teams, coaches and fans was at the heart of the decision made to cancel the Ivy League Basketball Tournaments. At the same time, our team is disappointed to not have the opportunity to compete this weekend alongside our fellow competitors.”"

To date, the Ivy League is the only conference that has canceled its postseason tournament, though other conferences have announced restrictions on fan attendance and banned players and coaches from shaking hands with opponents. The Ivy League said that other upcoming athletic events will continue as planned, with what it called “highly-restrictive, in-venue spectator limitations.”

There was considerable backlash against the cancellation, including from current student-athletes. Yale senior Roxy Barahman tweeted that the decision was “[a]bsolutely heartbreaking” and “[e]xtremely confusing.” Penn senior Kendall Grasela told Yahoo! Sports, “We felt like, at most, the tournament would still go on, and nobody from the outside would be able to come … And you’re going to tell me that a virus that isn’t even affecting any of the athletes … is going to take that away from us? It just doesn’t seem fair.”

Grasela added, “I’d play outside. Put on some Converse, find a hoop. Doesn’t even have to have a net.”

In response, Yahoo! Sports reported that Penn’s players started a petition to reinstate the tournament, and players from Columbia and Yale quickly signed on. “The hypocrisy of our Ivy League presidents is baffling and alarming,” the petition reads. “We are disappointed and disheartened that they would discriminate against one sport and allow the others to continue to compete.” The petition specifically mentions Yale women’s lacrosse, which flew to California on Tuesday to play at Fresno State, and Ivy League wrestlers’ participation in the NCAA Tournament as examples of the league’s inconsistent decision-making.

Yale junior Ellen Margaret Andrews wrote in the comments, “I completely respect that the Ivy League is prioritizing our health and safety. … But the lack of transparency and consistency with the League’s decision (I.e. still allowing us to travel to higher level tournaments) concerns me. I am simply asking for more transparency, as it would provide us some peace of mind despite how disappointed we are.”

The league has not publicly commented on the petition, which received over 7,000 signatures in its first eight hours. Barring a reversal by the league, Princeton will next take the court in its first-round NCAA Tournament game. The official tournament bracket will be released on Monday, March 16; other postseason tournaments such as the WNIT and the WBI will follow, perhaps giving another Ivy League team at least one more game.

For more information about COVID-19 (coronavirus), visit the CDC’s website or the website for your state’s Department of Health.

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