Big Green will face Tennessee or UConn in NCAAs

Updated: March 13, 2005, 12:00 AM ET
Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Dartmouth women's basketball coach Chris Wielgus would like the Ivy League to end its holdout and play a postseason tournament.

In the meantime, this will do.

Elise Morrison had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead Dartmouth to a 75-61 victory over Harvard on Saturday in a rare playoff to determine the league's entry in the NCAA Tournament. The Ivy League is the last conference in the country to give its bids -- men's and women's -- to the regular-season winner; the playoff was only necessary because both schools finished 12-2.

"I'm always in favor of playing a little bit more, but the powers-that-be have said, 'Enough is enough' with regard to athletics," Wielgus said after Dartmouth earned its fifth NCAA berth, its first since 2000. "But I know that the quality of basketball isn't diminished at all by the fact that we don't have a tournament."

Conference player of the year Reka Cserny had 15 points and nine rebounds as Harvard (20-8) fell behind early against Dartmouth (17-10) for the third time this year. This time the Crimson failed to rally, like they did in the final regular-season game on Tuesday when they overcame a 15-point second-half deficit to beat Dartmouth.

That made the two Ivy co-champs. But to Dartmouth goes the spoils -- the right to take on a Tennessee or Connecticut in the NCAAs.

(That's not the death sentence it might seem: In 1998, Harvard became the only No. 16 seed to win a first-round game in NCAA Tournament history -- men's or women's.)

"We play the season for the Ivy League championship. Period," Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. "Of course we would love to go to the NCAAs. But I'm still going to celebrate the Ivy League championship, and so are my players."

Other schools and other conferences talk about student-athletes, then they take the TV money to play Thursday night football games or late-night school-night basketball games that wreak havoc on an academic schedule. None takes academics more seriously than the Ivies, whose appearances in the rankings are more likely to be in U.S. News (Harvard No. 1 for national universities, Dartmouth No. 9) than The Associated Press Top 25 (both unranked).

The Ivy League does not play in the I-AA football playoffs, it schedules fewer basketball games than the NCAA would allow and it plays mostly back-to-back weekend games to minimize the infringement on academics. And, of course, no playoffs -- no scheduled ones, at least -- that would cut into classes right when the players should be studying for exams.

"Our presidents have been very clear with how they feel about this," said Chuck Yrigoyen, the associate director of the Ivy League.

Yrigoyen also said that its regular season is more likely to produce a tested champion than a tournament. On the other hand, a postseason would create interest at schools that lose their first two or three games.

"It's a struggle," he said. "It's the competition versus the student-athlete side."

There's another factor involved, one that Yrigoyen doesn't bring up -- money. No television network is salivating about the chance to broadcast Brown against Cornell to viewers who could be watching Duke play Kentucky.

Only 679 braved a snowstorm to see the women's playoff for $5 a ticket -- $3 for kids, free for students. Had it been the men's championship they might have made a bigger dent in Brown's 2,800-seat Pizzitola Sports Center, but even that's no guarantee.

"This felt like a tournament to me," Delaney-Smith said, "minus the fun."

It was the third time since gaining an automatic NCAA berth in 1994 that the Ivy League has had to hold a one-game playoff to determine its women's champion. Dartmouth has played in all three, losing to Brown in overtime and beating Princeton in '99.

The men have had seven playoffs since 1957, the last to break a three-team tie between Yale, Princeton and Penn in 2002.

The college presidents say that will have to be it, even though the players and coaches might want to keep playing.

"I love the concept of a tournament," Wielgus said. "That said, we're in the middle of exams right now."

Dartmouth's victory means another weekend of missed assignments for the Big Green players. Guard Angie Soriaga, who scored 22 points, had to reschedule a final exam -- the school has trimesters -- that was supposed to be on Saturday morning.

"Our profs won't be happy," she said, "but they're willing."

And the Big Green players will not gather Sunday night to find out their NCAA seeding.

They have to study.

"We're on a high right now -- cloud nine," Soriaga said.

"But it will drop," Morrison said, "as soon as we go back for exams."


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press