Rivalry Gets Boost

February 26, 2019

For NCAA Division III football programs, competing in an NFL stadium is the stuff of dreams. For Ithaca College and SUNY Cortland, next fall, it will be their reality.

The two squads, located about half an hour apart in Western New York, play a rivalry game every fall called the Cortaca Jug. Thanks to some influential alumni, the 2019 contest will be moved from Ithaca College to MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants and Jets.

How did the schools make it happen? A key piece was the involvement of a few Ithaca College grads. “Four of our alumni serve on the board of directors of the New York City chapter of the National Football Foundation (NFF),” says Susan Bassett, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreational Sports at Ithaca. “The idea to play at a stadium like MetLife has been floating around for years, and they took the next step to find out what it would entail.”

Through an effort led by Marc Hudak, an All-American offensive lineman at Ithaca in the late 1980s and current Chair of the NYC chapter of the NFF, the group of alums utilized their connections. Last June, they met with Ron VanDeVeen, President and CEO for MetLife Stadium, and pitched him on the idea. The NFF is planning several promotions for the College Football 150th Anniversary in 2019, and Hudak talked about how having the 61st Cortaca Jug matchup at a large venue could tie into the celebration. VanDeVeen liked what he heard, and shortly thereafter, Hudak was able to present Bassett with a formal invitation to play at MetLife on Nov. 16, 2019.

“It laid out some financials that we could react to, and then we started discussing it internally,” says Bassett who declined to offer specifics of the financial agreement. “We also reached out confidentially to Mike Urtz, Cortland’s Director of Athletics, to see if he would be interested. Everybody in the preliminary conversations saw the positive impact of visibility for both Ithaca and Cortland, for alumni engagement, and for student participation in an NFL stadium. We viewed this as a one-time opportunity that could have a tremendous lasting impact.”

Ithaca held a press conference to announce the news in early November, and was invited to MetLife Stadium for a site visit later that month. “We paid for a bus to take about 40 people—athletic and operations staff, faculty, alumni, and key student leaders from both schools—down to New Jersey,” says Bassett. “We had lunch at the Liberty House in Jersey City, which will be the site of a dual team banquet the night before the game. We then took a comprehensive tour of the facility to see what the team’s experience would be, what was required from a game operations standpoint, and what fan experience and alumni engagement opportunities would be available throughout the stadium.”

From there, tickets went on sale for $15, $25 and $35. “The business plan is that ticket sales will pay for the full cost of this event, and that has happened—we’ve already sold the number needed to cover all expenses,” says Bassett, adding that the event has pretty much promoted itself. “Both schools have a large number of alumni in the New York City area, and we’re already at 25,000 tickets sold. It’s taken on a life of its own.”

Additionally, each campus has a reserve of 5,000 tickets to sell to their on-campus communities in the fall. The schools are eyeing the possibility of 37,355 fans, which would break the attendance record for a Division III football game.

So far, the only downside of the plan is that it removes an important event from the small campus towns and places it 200 miles away. “We have been very aware of our students’ joy in participating in what has become an annual fall tradition. We met with student leaders, and for the most part, the response has been great excitement for such a huge opportunity,” says Bassett. “Both schools will provide transportation for students, and we’ll be working that out over the next several months.”

Many of the game day details are still being worked out as well. Since Ithaca was slated as this year’s host of the Cortaca Jug, it will be responsible for game operations and event management. “This will be a serious game, as usual,” says Bassett. “But it’s also going to be a great experience, not only for the student-athletes but for our athletic training and sport media students, athletics communications staff, and everyone else working the contest. It is a tremendous learning opportunity that I think will leave an incredible impression.”

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