David Zeitlin is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League.
A weird sequence of events happened during the Penn-Columbia game two weeks ago: Penn fans listened as the Princeton-Cornell score was announced. They learned Princeton was winning. And then they cheered. Of course, this makes perfect sense. The only way for any of the seven Ivy League also-rans to make the NCAA Tournament (or at least the play-in game) is to get through Cornell, the clear favorite to win the league. But for all of the Penn fans in the gym that night – the dozens of us – cheering for Princeton still felt dirty. That’s because for so long the Ivy League has been all about Penn and Princeton, the two storied programs that have made up one of college basketball’s best rivalries. Penn-Princeton games may not always produce the most exciting basketball (unless you love backdoor cuts and running the shot clock down to five seconds) but each contest is special because it usually determines the league champion. Over the years, the other six Ivy League teams have had as much success as Gus Johnson trying to keep his voice down in a library. Consider: Since the Ivy League’s inception in 1955, only seven times has the league championship been awarded without the Quakers or Tigers at least sharing the crown. Here’s a good YouTube video on the rivalry which highlights the 1999 game in which Penn raced out to a 29-3 lead before losing, 50-49, in a game now known at the Palestra simply as “Black Tuesday.” Six years later, however, Penn produced a miracle of its own when it erased an 18-point deficit in the final seven-and-a-half minutes to stun Princeton in overtime. I think about nine of my 10 favorite Palestra memories came from that game, and I still get chills every time I watch the highlights.