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Ivy League players file petition after tournament cancellation, decrying 'hypocrisy of our Ivy League presidents'

The University of Pennsylvania men’s and women’s basketball team started a petition on Tuesday afternoon to reinstate the Ivy League basketball tournaments, which were canceled on Tuesday morning citing fears over the spread of the coronavirus.

The petition, posted on change.org, calls out the “hypocrisy of our Ivy League presidents” and terms their decision “baffling and alarming.” It goes on to detail how the Ivy League is the only one of the more than 30 conferences to cancel their conference tournaments. It also points out that numerous Ivy League sports are traveling around the country to compete in other sports.

“If it is deemed safe enough for teams to travel to higher-level tournaments, then it should be safe enough for us to travel locally for the chance to compete,” the petition states, noting that Ivy League wrestlers are heading to Minnesota for NCAA wrestling championships. “This is discrimination against the Ivy League men’s and women’s basketball team.”

The Ivy League canceled the men’s and women’s basketball tournament scheduled for this weekend on Harvard’s campus. In a release, the Ivy League cited “health of students as well as the campus and general community” and made the decision based on recommendations from public health authorities. They also ended out-of-season practices, such as football spring practice.

In an interview with Yahoo Sports, members of the Penn men’s and women’s basketball team detailed their objections to the decision and the emotion that’s come with the fallout. The decisions hit senior players particularly hard, as they were told their seasons ended – and careers likely over, pending other postseason options – by a decision they had no say in.

“I was just in shock,” said Kendall Grasela, a Penn senior from Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. “There was a phase of confusion, then a big phase of frustration hit me after that. You really can’t wrap your mind around it. There’s no reason why basketball is the only sport canceled. ... It’s unfair and invokes a lot of frustrations and anger.”

PRINCETON, NJ - FEBRUARY 25: Princeton Tigers forward Ellie Mitchell (00) fights for position with Pennsylvania Quakers guard Kendall Grasela (11) during the Ivy League college basketball game between the Penn Quakers and Princeton Tigers on February 25, 2020 at Jadwin Gymnasium in Princeton, NJ (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Grasela’s Penn women’s basketball team finished second in the Ivy League with a 10-4 conference record. They were scheduled to play No. 3 Yale and potentially attempt to upset top-seeded Princeton to compete for the Ivy League’s automatic bid for the NCAA tournament. Princeton will represent the Ivy League now in the wake of the decision. (Penn’s women’s team could still be eligible for the WNIT.)

“Words can’t express the emotion I’m feeling,” said Phoebe Sterba, a Penn senior from Cleveland. “To be stripped of that chance to play in the NCAA tournament, which was easily the coolest thing I experienced in my career when we went to UCLA for NCAAs my freshman year. I think it’s unfair. I don’t think they considered the human emotion and reactions to what this did to players.”

With other teams at Penn and other Ivy schools competing around the country, Grasela and Sterba expressed their frustration with the Ivy League not being able to come up with another option. Those would include a neutral venue or a game played with no fans in attendance.

“I’m sure another school would have hosted it,” Grasela said. “If you are worried about numbers [of people], limit the number of tickets. We just want to play. We just want to put on our sneakers, nothing more, nothing less. We don’t need fans or to be on TV. We’d play at a rec center. We’d play outside for another opportunity to play.”

The Penn men’s basketball team finished No. 4 in the Ivy League and would have had a chance to knock off top-seeded Yale in the Ivy League tournament before it got canceled. (Yale got the league’s bid because of the cancelation of the tournament.) The players found out in a team meeting before a practice scheduled for 11 a.m., when coach Steve Donahue told them.

The decision likely ended their careers, as Penn is just 16-11 and not a strong candidate for an alternative postseason tournament. (And the reality of those ancillary postseason tournaments being played at this time is likely dwindling.)

Instead of practicing and preparing for Yale, the Penn seniors were left to ponder the end of their careers.

“The emotion for me, and I think a lot of other guys on the team, is just sadness and frustration for this opportunity being stripped from us,” said Devon Goodman, a senior who’ll end his career with 998 points. “Guys are still trying to process it. For our season to be over in a blink of an eye, and out of nowhere, guys are taking it hard.”

Fellow Penn senior AJ Brodeur said he didn’t expect the Ivy League to reverse their decision. But he did hope that the petition leads to administrators understanding the decision from an athlete’s perspective. He also hoped that it would force administrators to give some clarity to why the decision was made.

Brodeur couldn’t rationalize how the Ivy League cancels a tournament slated for gym at Harvard that holds 2,500 people but the NCAA tournament is still slated to be held in gyms nearly 10-times the size in the upcoming weeks. “At the current moment, it doesn’t’ make much sense,” he said. “It’s a source of anger and frustration.”

That same frustration over a lack of answers and a seeming lack of exploration of other options permeated through the women’s program at Penn. “I think it’s extremely hypocritical,” Sterba said of other programs being allowed to continue their seasons. “I would love to receive a proper explanation as to what they actually considered as other alternatives. There’s a lack of consistency.”

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