If you travel across the river to Lavietes Pavilion to watch the Harvard men’s basketball team compete, you won’t see a slew of players who will one day play for the Boston Celtics or a team that will dethrone Duke to win the NCAA championship.
But that’s not to say there isn’t a lot to see.
This season, the Crimson is poised to do something never before achieved in Harvard history: win an Ivy League championship. Of the eight teams in the Ancient Eight, Harvard is the only program without a championship banner hanging from its rafters. But after a strong performance in non-conference play, it looks like this could be the year the Crimson changes that.
But the possibility of a title is not the main reason you should care about Harvard basketball. You should care about Harvard basketball because it competes in the Ivy League—the most unique basketball conference in the country.
The Ivy League sets itself apart by ensuring that its athletes have a consummate college experience while maintaining their athletic commitments. While athletes from other conferences receive special benefits—such as athletic scholarships and access to special housing—Ivy League players enjoy no such perks. Ivy League players don’t even get to skip class for games since 12 out of 14 conference matchups are held on Friday and Saturday nights.
When a player steps on the court at Lavietes Pavilion with “Harvard” stitched across his jersey, you can be sure that he is experiencing the same Harvard as the tuba player in the band, the cheerleader under the basket, and the fan in the fifth row of the student section. At Harvard where he is treated the same as every other student, and is able to take advantage of Harvard’s offerings in the same way as his peers. The same cannot be said for players in many other highly visible college basketball programs such as the University of Kentucky, where players treat the school as a one-year pit stop before entering the NBA.
Furthermore, the Ivy League has no conference tournament, or a postseason competition to crown its champion, which is a consistent tradition across every other league in the country. The Ivy League title, on the other hand—and the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA tournament—is awarded to the team that finishes the regular season with the best record. This makes every regular season game, whether it’s against the league’s top dog or against the cellar dweller, of crucial importance; a single slip up could spell an end to a team’s championship hopes.
Questions such as whether the Harvard men’s basketball team sends another player like Jeremy Lin ’10 to the NBA and whether the team wins its first Ivy League championship are exciting, but it’s not the only reason we should care about the Crimson as it enters the heart of conference play.
Instead, we should care because it’s the Ivy League—the conference which demands that its athletes accomplish as students and which shuns marquee tournaments in favor of everyday play.
Martin A. Kessler ’13, an associate sports editor, is a sociology concentrator in Currier House.