The fastest spreading bug in New Haven this winter wasn’t a cold or the flu. It was Yale basketball fever.
The early symptoms included wins at Penn State and Clemson, but the full-fledged outbreak came with a home sweep of Pennsylvania and Princeton. The historic season, and the fanaticism that came with it, concluded with a sellout crowd of 9,847 at the New Haven Coliseum for Yale’s final game versus Tennessee Tech.
With the entire roster returning from a team that shared the Ivy League championship and won the first postseason game in school history, the University predicts that the excitement will return next winter and is taking measures to accommodate New Haven’s newfound interest in Bulldog hoops. To keep the popularity of Yale basketball soaring, there are plans to increase capacity at the John J. Lee Amphitheater and bring the tradition of Midnight Madness to Yale in order to kick off the season in style.
The Penn and Princeton home games drew announced capacity crowds of 3,100 at the Lee Amphitheater — a number that was probably too low, considering the numbers of fans spilling into aisles and squeezed into the bleachers.
While the packed houses provided a great atmosphere for two thrilling Yale victories, the New Haven fire marshal deemed that Yale exceeded the number of people that the Lee Amphitheater can safely accommodate, Associate Athletics Director Colleen Lim said. As a result, Yale had to “literally count the seats” in the Amphitheater, arriving at a new, reduced capacity of 2,552, Lim said.
To address the issue, Lim said various ideas for changes to the Amphitheater are being discussed, although the Athletics Department has not made any official plans yet. One potential plan sources have mentioned includes removing some of the Amphitheater’s large bucket seats and replacing them with bleachers in order to increase capacity.
Lim said the Athletics Department hopes to have increased capacity at the Lee Amphitheater in time for the start of the next basketball season.
A new Yale tradition
The first opportunity to fill the Lee Amphitheater could be Saturday Oct. 12, when Yale head coach James Jones plans to stage Yale’s first-ever Midnight Madness.
Popular at campuses nationwide, Midnight Madness is a rally, often featuring player introductions, skills competitions and prize giveaways, geared toward generating fan interest at the start of the college basketball season. It occurs at midnight on the Saturday nearest to Oct. 15 — the day the NCAA allows teams to begin official practice.
Jones said both the men’s and women’s basketball team would participate in the inaugural Yale version. He said he plans on contacting ESPN personalities Rece Davis and Andy Katz to see if either would agree to be the master of ceremonies.
A good home game is hard to find
While the Athletics Department explores ways to increase capacity at the Lee Amphitheater, Jones is searching high and low for teams to come play there.
So far, Jones has lined up a challenging non-conference road schedule. The Bulldogs have away games against Stanford, Wake Forest, Penn State, St. Mary’s, Sacred Heart and Army. In addition, the team will play Holy Cross and either Central Connecticut State or Hartford in the Phoenix Classic at the Hartford Civic Center.
Home games, though, are much harder to get. So far, in addition to the seven Ivy League games, only a home date with Long Island University is set for next year.
“Nobody wants to come here to play,” Jones said. “We have a lot of games on the road, and that is not a recipe for success.”
As Yale improves, it becomes harder to get home games because coaches realize that winning at the Lee Amphitheater will be a formidable task, Jones said. He assumed that games against some of this year’s opponents — Colgate, Rhode Island and Albany — would be available for next season, but those schools have decided to stop playing Yale, at least for the time being, Jones said.
In order to fill up the home schedule, this weekend Jones and his staff head to Atlanta, the site of the Final Four, to meet with the many Division I coaches who attend the event.