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Globe Editorial

Harvard: Of hoops and hopes

March 15, 2011

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For the Harvard basketball team, Saturday’s Ivy League championship playoff ended in heartbreak — not just because Princeton won by a single point on a buzzer beater, but because the loss cost Harvard its first-ever slot at “March Madness’’ in the NCAA tournament.

But it didn’t have to be that way. The NCAA, which reserves one slot each year for the Ivy League champ, has never given an at-large bid to a second Ivy League team. That’s more a matter of habits and prejudices than merit. The selection process is always subjective; every year, there is debate over favored teams that didn’t make the cut and supposedly less-deserving teams that did. This year, people are howling over the exclusion of Alabama, the inclusion of Virginia Commonwealth University, the mediocre nature of some of the teams. Would it have hurt to have rewarded a hard-working, well-coached, talented team that just happens to be in the Ivy League?

A tournament bid would hardly have been a cakewalk for Harvard, it’s clear. But those tall odds were an excellent argument for granting this unlikely team a chance. In just about every arena of life, Harvard is an overdog; in basketball, it’s the ultimate underdog. The NCAA, which thrives on giving the collegiate Davids a once-in-a-lifetime shot at university Goliaths, missed its moment.