When the Yale Bowl opened on November 21, 1914 for The Game, it was at the cutting edge of football stadium architecture as the first stadium with seating completely surrounding the field.
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But nearly 100 years later, The Bowl and Yale football are revered more for their tradition than for recent innovations. Even as most other Ivy League schools have installed lights, the Yale Bowl remains a place for noon and 1 p.m. games.
The lack of lighting at Yale remains despite the marked increases in attendance that games under the lights at other Ivy League schools have shown over daytime games. Administrators said that because the Bowl only hosts football games, the cost of light installation would not be worth the effort, but most students interviewed said they would enjoy attending the Saturday night games the lights would make possible.
Defensive back Josh Grizzard ’12 said despite the Bowl’s history, the presence of lights at other schools does set a precedent strong enough for the Bulldogs to question why they don’t have lights as well.
Students in favor of lights have at least one ally among athletic officials: head football coach Tom Williams. Williams said that while the football staff has not discussed adding lights to the Bowl, it is an option worth exploring for the future. Night games would fit better into parents’ schedules, as balancing all of the athletic activities of multiple children with afternoon practices and games on Saturdays makes it difficult for a Yale parent to come to New Haven for a football game during the day, Williams said.
Kurt Svoboda, assistant director of athletics for communications at Harvard, said the Crimson football team typically has one night game per season, with this year’s against Holy Cross. When Harvard took on the Crusaders in September, 21,704 fans were present, Svoboda said. At the last day game against Holy Cross at Harvard in 2006, the crowd numbered just 11,209.
Even though Brown does not have permanent lights on its football field, the school did experiment with them this year. Brown alumni paid $45,000 to rent lights for the Bears’ home game against the Crimson in September, and the uptick in attendance was similar to that at Harvard for its night game against Holy Cross. Brown head football coach Phil Estes said in his 2008 game against Harvard the attendance was 5,618, but the night game this year drew about 17,600. Estes added there are some estimates that 4,700 Brown students attended the night game — almost the entire student body.
Estes said the typical college student sleeps until noon on the weekend, so the likelihood of him or her going to a football game at that time is minimal. But when the games are at night, he said, the same student can use the game as a start to his or her evening, and then go out with friends afterwards.
Harvard sophomore Alex White said the Holy Cross game had not been that big of a deal in the past, but having it at night made it much more appealing for Harvard students because they tend to leave their weekend nights free, but during the day are busy.
“I think that in general it’s a better atmosphere at night,” White said.
Kat Oshman ’13 said that growing up in Houston, Texas, all football games were played at night, which made for a more fun environment. She added that she thought more Yale students would probably attend night games because of packed schedules during the day.
Yale football players interviewed said night games weren’t just more appealing for the fans. “They create a better atmosphere in the game,” Chris Stanley ’11 said about stadium lights. “It’s like a showcase game. Everyone’s attention is focused on you.”
But for now, the lights are absent and there are no plans to change that.
“They’re keeping the game played the same way it’s always been played,” Stanley said.
Williams said the Yale Bowl has a rich tradition, and lights have never been a part of that tradition.
And not every student wants to depart from that tradition. Aleca Hughes ’12 said that lights would detract from the Yale Bowl’s status as an icon of American football. She said the same group of students who tailgate and attend the football games will do so regardless of whether the game is held during the day or at night.
But Patrick Ruwe ’83 MED ’87, president of the Yale Football Association, said the Bowl’s lack of lights is not an issue of tradition but priority.
Steve Conn, director of sports publicity, said not only is Ivy League football not known for its night games, but also the Yale Bowl is a completely different facility from that of the Ivy League schools that have lights. He said those schools have multipurpose synthetic fields used for multiple sports at all times of the day. In contrast, wide receiver Chris Smith ’13 said, the Yale Bowl is not used by five different teams everyday, which would ruin the grass.
“We’re not comparing the same thing here,” Conn said. “These are totally different situations.”
Another issue with lights is cost. Estes said while Brown does have plans to rent lights for another night game next year, there are no plans to purchase them because of their high costs. He added, however, that night games could be lucrative. Estes said when lights offer the opportunity to increase dwindling attendance and perhaps increase television coverage, night games may be a shift in the right direction.
“If you’re going to triple attendance, you’ll find a way to generate revenue,” he said.
Williams said that from a coaching perspective, night games shorten the amount of preparation time for games and also cut down on time after the game to review video.
John Cavalier, director of football operations at Columbia University, said that while Wien Stadium does have lights, the Lions do not play night games so as to maintain a consistent playing schedule for the team. He added, however, that the lights have advantages beyond night games, including allowing for late practices.
Four games hosted by Ivy League Schools were played under lights this season.