Ivy League Needs to Amend Grad Rules
Updated: Oct 2, 2020
I love Ivy League basketball. I love its history. I love how teams only play weekend games. I love when a team swoops in and lands a top-100 recruit despite not being able to offer scholarships. But Ivy League basketball could be even better if it would get out of its own way.
The Ivy League does not allow graduate students to compete, regardless of the reason why they want to. In fact, one of the guiding principles of the Ivy League during its founding in 1954 was that it would only be for undergraduates. The most common scenario as to why a player (I despise the PR nature of the term student-athlete) would want to play as a graduate is that they have a remaining year of eligibility due to a medical issue. NCAA athletes have four years of eligibility. In most conferences, if a player has to miss significant time because of an injury, they will play one more year at their school as a graduate. If they're unhappy at their school, they will transfer for that extra year of eligibility because graduate transfers do not need to sit out a year before playing like undergraduate transfers do.
I would argue that the talent in Ivy League Men's Basketball these past few years is its strongest since at least the late 1960s into the early 1970s. 5 former Ivy Leaguers currently play on G League teams, and Utah's Miye Oni (a friend of the blog), even left Yale a year early in order to enter the draft. He's appeared in 5 games for the Jazz this year. Outside of North America, at least 19 other Ancient 8 alums are playing basketball professionally. With this influx of talent, you would think that the Ivy League would do everything in its power to keep players around as long as possible. You don't want your star players leaving for power five conferences. If they want to leave, fine. It stinks for the league but player mobility is #actuallygood. However, if players do want to stay, and you force them to leave, you're doing a disservice to both your players and your league. I really can't figure out a single person helped by the rule.
The Yale Daily News put together this graphic showing just how strong the group of Ivy League grads searching for a place to play next season is. The top 4 players in ESPN's Grad Transfer Rankings are all from the Ivy League!! That's absolutely insane. This list is filled with All-Ivy studs who would make the league so much more formidable next season. Harvard's Seth Towns was named Player of the Year in his sophomore season. He then missed the next two seasons with injury (ruining the Ivy League fantasy season of a certain blogger in back to back years). Who knows whether or not Towns would have stayed anyway, but the fact the he doesn't even have a choice is an issue. Ryan Betley's junior season ended just 5 minutes after it started when his knee gave out on a layup attempt. Penn's head coach Steve Donahue has publicly said that Betley would have preferred to stay with the program for his 5th year, which the Ivy League forbids.
The top 5 Ivy League Grad transfers this year are all going to end up at blue blood college basketball programs (Bruner might even go pro). Why wouldn't the Ivy League want to keep this talent in-house? Then, there's the case of Brendan Barry. One of the top guards in the league, he suffered a season ending hip injury in September, before his senior campaign had even begun. No fault of his own. But per Ivy League rules, his time in Hanover would be over. Or so we all thought. ESPN's Jeff Borzello reported yesterday that Barry would take off the final quarter of this academic school year, allowing him to graduate next Spring. By delaying his graduation, he can technically still participate as an undergraduate.
While that is a creative solution, it's ridiculous that players need to jump through these kind of hoops just to keep playing at their schools. We shouldn't be nudging players to delay their graduation, but rather graduation should be encouraged. Furthermore, Ivy League players work unbelievably hard to be able to compete at a high level on the court, but also to excel in the classroom. If they want to go to grad school at an elite university, why would we ever want to stop them from doing so.
College basketball coaches in recent years have become terrified of the trend of players transferring at the first sign of adversity. They do everything they can to retain players they spent years recruiting. But the Ivy League is actually forcing players to leave. It's a ridiculous rule and one that must be reconsidered for the sake of players and fans. I feel bad that Seth Towns only got to play two seasons at the school that recruited him. I feel bad for myself for only getting to see him play at Harvard for two seasons. This is such an easy fix, one that hurts nobody.