There will be plenty of full arenas and gymnasiums this weekend as several Division I conference tournaments reach their conclusion in advance of the NCAA Tournament field being selected Sunday, March 13. But the most unique and unexpected sellout will occur in a facility where the home team long ago packed the basketballs away for the summer and for a game that will decide the champion of the lone league that does not hold a tournament to determine its NCAA representative.
The Ivy League is holding a one-game playoff between Princeton and Harvard — each of whom finished tied for first in the regular season with a 12-2 mark — Saturday, March 12 at Payne Whitney Gymnasium on the campus of fellow Ivy League member Yale. Tickets to the game at the 3,100-seat facility sold out almost as soon as they were placed on sale this week, and as of this afternoon, Friday March 11, there were no tickets for sale at StubHub.com. There was one pair for sale at eBay.com — for a tidy $1,200.
This is not the first time this season — or even this month — a ticket to a Harvard-Princeton game has turned into one of the hottest ducats on the market: Harvard beat Princeton, 79-67, to clinch no worse than a tie for the regular season crown in front of 2,195 fans on the Harvard campus Saturday, March 5. There were rumors in the days leading up to that game that tickets to the contest were going for as much as $500.
“The Ivy League may have greatly underestimated the interest from both schools’ fan bases,” Jon Solomon, the editor of Princetonbasketball.com, told TicketNews. “If it was up to me I’d have played the game at Quinnipiac [in nearby Hamden] — similarly equidistant but their building holds almost 1,000 more.
“It doesn’t look like too many tickets have hit the broker sites and I’ve heard from many people close to the Princeton program that got shut out of tickets.”
The demand for tickets to the winner-take-all battle is no surprise given the tiny confines of Whitney Gymnasium (each school received 150 student tickets and 1,000 tickets to sell to non-students) the unique nature of the one-game playoff, the championship droughts endured by Harvard and Princeton and the rivalry between the schools that stretches all the way back to the 19th century.
This marks just the eighth playoff in the 55-year history of the Ivy League, the first since 2002 and only the third in the last 30 seasons. Harvard is attempting to win its first Ivy League title and make its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1946. Before this year, the Crimson had finished as high as second just once, back in 1970-71.
Princeton, meanwhile, has won 25 Ivy League titles, tying it for most all-time with Pennsylvania. But the Tigers haven’t won the Ivy since 2004, matching the longest absence from the NCAA Tournament in program history.
“Not as long as Harvard, but I think [the drought is] another element to the overall excitement,” Solomon said.
Also adding to the anticipation is the unusually competitive race for the title. This marks just the second time in the last 18 years that two Ivy League teams won 12 regular season conference games. In addition, both teams are ranked in the top 50 in the RPI, which is a key tool used by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, and the team that loses Saturday will still be in the running for an at-large bid. The Ivy League has never received two bids to the NCAA Tournament.
“I just think there’s great interest in both programs from both sides,” Solomon said.