Yale University failed to sell out its allotment of tickets for tomorrow’s football game against Harvard University, with Hurricane Sandy helping produce a rarity in the Ivy League rivalry that started in 1875.
The New Haven, Connecticut, school returned 200 of its roughly 5,500 tickets for the game, priced between $35 and $60 each, to Harvard this week, said Jeremy Makins, Yale’s associate athletic director of ticket and rink operations.
It’s the first time since at least 2006 that Yale hasn’t sold out road tickets for the game. This year marks the 129th edition of the rivalry, the sport’s third longest.
“The team struggled this season, Hurricane Sandy likely played a role, and tickets are more expensive than they’ve been in the past,” Makins said in a telephone interview.
Sandy struck the East Coast almost three weeks ago, leaving 4.8 million people in the New York area without power and causing up to $50 billion in damage.
“An enormous concentration of former football lettermen are located in the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy,” Steve Conn, Yale’s athletic department spokesman, said in an e-mail. “We don’t expect anyone impacted by a catastrophic storm like Sandy to place a sporting event on their priority list.”
The Crimson (7-2, 4-2 Ivy League) can win a share of the league title with a victory against the visiting Bulldogs (2-7, 1-5) and a University of Pennsylvania loss at Cornell University. A defeat by Harvard would give Yale its highest conference loss total since 2001.
Harvard put Yale’s excess tickets on sale and probably will attract a sellout crowd of more than 30,000 at Harvard Stadium in Boston for the noon kickoff.
Kurt Svoboda, a Harvard athletic department spokesman, declined in an e-mail to comment on the returned tickets or how long it would take to sell out the additional seats, which are worth between $7,000 and $12,000. He said in an e-mail that it’s common for visiting schools to return tickets.
Harvard and Yale, about 130 miles apart, met for the first time on Nov. 13, 1875. Nicknamed “The Game,” the rivalry is played as the season’s final contest for each school and trails only Lehigh-Lafayette (147 meetings) and Yale-Princeton (135 meetings) as college football’s oldest series.
Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk, who was part of a last-place Harvard team in 1995 and won an Ivy League title with the Crimson in 1997, said the game is a “special experience” for Ivy League players, who don’t play in bowls. The crowd expected for the contest is four times more than the 7,600 Harvard averaged for its first five home games in 2012.
“It’s a big-time college football atmosphere, that last game, and as a player you feel pretty fortunate,” Birk said in a telephone interview. “The whole atmosphere, everything is amped up. You don’t have that experience any other time for any other game during the year.”
None of the eight elite northeastern U.S. schools in the Ivy League offers athletic scholarships or participates in postseason football. Harvard and Yale have combined to produce more U.S. presidents -- eight studied as undergrads at the two schools -- than Heisman Trophy winners; Yale players won college football’s top award in 1936 and 1937, while no one from Harvard has.
Yale typically requests between 5,000 and 7,000 tickets for its games at Harvard to sell to students, alumni and Bulldogs fans, according to Makins. The school pays Harvard for the tickets it sells and returns those that go unsold. The Crimson won’t take any added revenue from selling the returned tickets themselves.
Makins said the school hadn’t returned tickets in Yale’s previous two games at Harvard. Conn said in an e-mail he didn’t know the last time the Bulldogs sent tickets back but that they normally sell out their share.
The rivalry remains an important game for Bulldogs players, as sophomore punter Kyle Cazzetta said as quoted by the Yale Daily News.
“We have high spirits still, still want to go out and ruin Harvard’s season, let them not have a shot at sharing the Ivy League title,” Cazzetta said.
With the conference’s top scoring offense and stingiest defense, Harvard has won its last five games against Yale and is seeking a share of its 15th conference title. Princeton can also win a share of the championship with a win against Dartmouth and a Quakers loss.
The Harvard-Yale game will be televised on NBC Sports Network, what Ivy League spokesman Scottie Rodgers called the “cornerstone game” of the conference’s two-year football rights agreement with the Comcast Corp. unit signed in May. The game will be streamed live internationally for $9.95 on the Harvard athletics website.
Penn coach Al Bagnoli, who has won at least a share of nine Ivy League titles since 1992, said he understands why the Yale-Harvard game will be televised by NBC Sports Network instead of a shot at the outright title by the Quakers (5-4, 5-1).
“It’s traditionally two great institutions playing a game that has great tradition to it,” Bagnoli said in a telephone interview from Philadelphia. “If that was needed to get a national package which benefits everyone, then that’s a great tradeoff.”