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Next Saturday morning, the most-watched sports broadcasting channel in the country will focus its attention on a historic Yale football matchup.
After weeks of speculation, ESPN announced yesterday that its popular college football pregame show, College GameDay, will head to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the 131st edition of the Yale-Harvard football game.
The matchup will mark just the second appearance of College GameDay at an Ivy League school since the show first aired in 1987.
“People do not get to watch a lot of Ivy League sports on TV, so the GameDay decision is definitely out of the ordinary,” tight end Sebastian Little ’16 said. “It’s awesome [Yale and Harvard] have been given the opportunity to represent Ivy League athletics as a whole.”
Associate director of athletics sports publicity Steve Conn added that the decision is a testament to the success and tradition of the Yale and Harvard football programs.
GameDay is a three-hour-long show hosted by ESPN personalities Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, David Pollack and former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard.
The show is located on the campus of a notable game each week, chosen and announced during the weekend prior to the game.
For Ivy League fans, there is no question that the matchup on Saturday will be notable, as this year’s playing of The Game will be crucial in determining the Ivy League standings.
Harvard (9–0, 6–0 Ivy) can complete an undefeated season with a win, while a Yale victory would give the Bulldogs (8–1, 5–1) a share of the Ivy title and snap a seven-game losing streak at the hands of the Cantabs.
“Both teams are just fun to watch,” Little said. “They score points [and] play sound defense, and both have a shot at the Ivy League title.”
Andrew Sobotka ’15, co-founder and former president of The Whaling Crew, a student fan group, added that a lack of significant matchups in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision helped the Ivy League’s case for being the GameDay site.
Still, Yale-Harvard beat out other potential rivalry matchups such as UCLA-USC, which has major implications in the Pac-12 South Division, as well as the 150th playing of Lafayette-Lehigh, a Football Championship Subdivision contest that is being played at Yankee Stadium.
“I think that The Game is probably always in GameDay’s back pocket, but they’d only come if the Ivy Championship was somehow at stake,” Sobotka said. “The confluence of those two things — a mediocre FBS lineup and the stakes of this year’s version of The Game — I think, created a perfect opportunity for ESPN.”
However, many college football fans on social media expressed disappointment with the decision to have an Ivy League school host a show whose analysts almost exclusively discuss top FBS programs.
Though the Yale and Harvard squads may feature fewer NFL prospects, and may be of less national prominence, GameDay contributors will have the opportunity to talk about the historical significance of one of the oldest college football rivalries in the nation.
“There are too many people who consider themselves college football aficionados who know very little about the origins of the game, and of the college game,” Conn said. “There are so many firsts, so many things that happened in Yale-Harvard. It’s kind of a must-do at some point.”
ESPN will position the GameDay set on the Dillon Quad, just outside Harvard Stadium in Allston, Massachusetts. Tapings for the show will take place both on Friday and Saturday mornings. Fans are invited to both tapings.
The show is known for the tailgating atmosphere it captures at its weekly site, as well as amusing signs that fans in the area hold behind the ESPN hosts and analysts.
“I think the atmosphere at The Game is always incredible and this year, GameDay or no GameDay, will be no different,” Sobotka said. “I fully expect Yalies to come up with some great signs to put in the background of the GameDay set, though.”
Many assumed that the Yale-Army game, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Yale Bowl, would be Yale fans’ best shot at participating in GameDay this season when producer Lee Fitting confirmed that the game was on the “short list” of potential matchups.
But ESPN chose instead to visit Columbia, South Carolina, for the game between Missouri and South Carolina.
Even without ESPN to witness, Yale defeated Army 49–43 in a memorable showdown that went into overtime.
Since that win, the Bulldogs have surged from a fifth-place Ivy preseason ranking to a nearly undefeated record, laying claim to the highest-gaining offense in all of Division-I football.
The Crimson was also a member of the first Ivy matchup that College GameDay visited on Nov. 16, 2002. Penn was the host, however, and crushed Harvard 44–9 en route to an undefeated Ivy finish that season.
Before the announcement, Yale captain Deon Randall ’15 noted that having College GameDay in attendance would not affect the team’s preparation or mindset. But it would, he said, certainly be an exciting opportunity.
“It’d be awesome to have College GameDay there, to get a couple fans, for us to play on TV,” Randall said. “It’d definitely show that people have respect for Ivy League football. We’d love to have them.”
GameDay will start at 9 a.m. on ESPN, and kickoff for the football game is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.