While students and alumni cheered on the Yale football team at the Yale Bowl for Friday night’s game against Penn, parents and fans were able to watch the Bulldogs from the comfort of their living rooms.
In late August, the Ivy League Digital Network, a nine-channel network that live streams 34 Ivy League sports, expanded its partnership with NeuLion to include a streaming application for televisions. With the increase in coverage, Ivy League institutions are now able to broadcast live sports coverage through the ILDN application on AppleTV and Roku digital media players.
According to Ivy League Assistant Executive Director of Digital Media & Communications Matthew Panto, the decision to expand coverage was a unanimous decision of the league office, its member institutions and its network provider, NeuLion.
“Since the launch of ILDN over three years ago, many fans around the League have expressed their desire to be able to watch ILDN through a big screen experience,” Panto said. “Partnering with Apple TV and Roku gives the Ivy League the ability to reach out to that audience and a chance to watch ILDN through their platform preference.”
According to Associate Athletics Director of Strategic Communications at Columbia Alex Oberweger who used to work on the Ivy League Strategic Communications Committee, the League’s partnership with NeuLion began five years ago when the conference decided to create a single network to stream all eight institution’s athletic programs. Before the establishment of ILDN in 2013, each school had its own streaming platform.
In a press release, Executive Director of the Ivy League Robin Harris said the new partnership will continue the success of the ILDN and give fans more viewing options.
There will be no additional costs for the upgrade. Currently, an annual subscription to the ILDN costs $119.95.
Director of Multimedia and Production for Harvard Athletics Imry Halevi said the addition of the new applications is a direct result of feedback the League’s institutions received from their viewers.
“As technology continues to grow and expand, people want to be able to watch content wherever they are and on whatever platform they are using at any given moment,” Halevi said.
Oberweger agreed that fans and alumni, before the addition of AppleTV and Roku ILDN apps, were forced to watch games and matches on iPads, iPhones and computers on the HTML5 platform, which could be inconvenient. He said with the addition of the applications, fans who prefer to stream Ivy League athletics on their living room televisions are able to do so.
According to the Director of Dartmouth Varsity Athletics Communications Rick Bender, all eight Ivy schools were involved in the discussions of expansion throughout the process.
“The league is doing all it can to make the digital network and everything good about athletics in the Ivy League more accessible to sports fans,” Associate Athletics Director of Sports Publicity Steve Conn said. “Any other platforms that we can get our student athletes on is good for anybody.”
Bender said many people have already told him how excited they are to have ILDN on AppleTV and Roku and said he believes the ILDN television application legitimizes the Ivy League’s network.
“Folks will be more likely to delve into the ILDN, see the quality at which we are broadcasting our events and more likely subscribe to the network,” Bender said.
On a warm Thursday earlier this month, several of my baseball teammates and I were tasked with preparing the Yale Bowl for the team’s scrimmage against Brown that Saturday. We had to hang the Ivy League Championship banners on the wall surrounding the field, organize just over one hundred chairs for the players in the meeting room and clip up the pennants of the other Ivies to the flag posts along the top of the bowl.
While we were clipping the flags along the top of the empty stadium, I noticed the seat on the top row of the bleachers had nearly rotted all the way through. In a moment of keen intellect, I decided to drag my foot along the back of the board to make sure.
Unfortunately, I was spot on. My foot hit the seat and a grapefruit-sized chunk of flaky wood fell from the back of the bench and broke into a lump of sawdust on the concrete. Perhaps more an accident than vandalism, but I still felt guilty. It seemed as if, while on a tour of a grand medieval castle, I had leaned over the “Do Not Cross” rope in the dining room, bumped a priceless vase and watched as it shattered on the floor.
And, in a sense, that is exactly what I had done.
The Yale Bowl bleeds history. It is one of only four other football stadiums in the country honored as a national historic landmark; The Rose Bowl (modeled after the Yale Bowl), Soldier Field and a certain concrete monstrosity in Cambridge hold the honor as well. The design for the Bowl was proposed by Charles A. Ferry, an alum from the class of 1871, and was built by over 145 men from the Sperry Construction Co. of New Haven. Ground was broken on June 23, 1913 and just over a year later, on Nov. 14, 1914, the gates opened for the first time.
The structure was unlike anything in the world — indeed, at that point, it was the largest stadium on Earth. An outdoor, wrap-around amphitheater of its magnitude had not been built since the Roman Coliseum. So while war raged across Europe (on the morning of Nov. 14 the headlines of The New York Times read “Germans Push British Line Back But Fail in Assault of Ypres”) around 65,000 people, from all over the country, crammed through the downward-sloping entryways to behold the architectural marvel. (Despite this colossal new stadium, we still managed to get trounced by the Crimson 36-0.)
Since that November day, the Bowl has enjoyed a century’s worth of history equal to the grandeur of its opening. The stadium has hosted a panoply of concerts from the Glenn Miller Band to the Grateful Dead, international soccer matches, tennis matches, lacrosse games, theater productions, the 1995 Special Olympics, NFL teams such as the Giants and the Jets — and, oh yes, our beloved Bulldogs. Since calling the Bowl home, the Bulldogs have enjoyed eight undefeated seasons, two Heisman trophy winners — Larry Kelley ’36 and Clint Frank ’37 — 14 Ivy League Championships, and one National Championship. At its peak, the average attendance at games was upwards of 40,000, but the Bowl has held crowds larger than 70,000 on 20 occasions, even reaching 80,000 for the Yale-Army game in 1923.
Today, things are different.
Thanks largely to the rise of television and the advent of athletic scholarships, college football has surged in the last 50 years. From Lee Corso and College Gameday, to stadiums that seat over 100,000 people — larger than most NFL stadiums — to Tim Tebow, Johnny Football and the Alabama Crimson Tide, college football has evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry. An industry that hardly exudes the amateurism by which college sports abide. An industry where universities reap huge profits off the television contracts their football teams attract. An industry that has left smaller Division I schools in an adapt-or-die situation. It’s a quandary that has left many schools like Yale limping along in the background.
Even this week, the famous College Gameday show turned down the Yale v. Army game, a rivalry steeped in history and tradition, for this week’s headline Southeastern Conference matchup — South Carolina v. Missouri.
“It’s too easy,” Steve Conn, Associate Athletics Director of Sports Publicity at Yale, tells me. “[There’s an] oversaturated market on television … on basic television you can get 10 games.”
“Big time [college] football has gone berserk,” echoes Sterling professor of classics and history Donald Kagan. “Distant from values we used to pertain to intercollegiate sport.” He goes so far as to call it an “ugly scene of venality and corruption.”
And somewhere apart from this madness sits the Ivy League. Ivy League schools are forbidden to award athletic scholarships. Rarely are any of their sporting events televised nationally, and if they are, never by ESPN or any other major network. And God forbid if College Gameday decides to sojourn in New Haven for a weekend. Meanwhile, the league maintains its standard of balancing athletic and academic excellence, in no particular order. Kagan continues, “We recruit athletes and we do insist they are appropriate students … And, from my experience, they are.” The league, in turn, does its best to hold up what many regard as the old image of intercollegiate athletics: professional students performing at the highest level of amateur athletics the country can offer. But attendance rates have suffered because of this adherence to the old.
Today the Bowl, just as in 1914, sits beneath a hill covered in burnt yellow-grass, silent and sprawling with an ovular, lush field of green at the base. The Bulldogs have not had a whiff of a national championship or a Heisman Trophy in over half a century. In fact, it’s been nearly a decade since our last Ivy League title. And although Yale is usually near the top of the league in attendance, with numbers varying year-to-year between 15,000 and 25,000 per game, when placed in the context of a stadium that seats nearly 65,000, it’s hardly something to brag about.
But according to Yale football players today, regardless of whether there are 800 or 80,000 on hand, the Bowl retains its magic. “The Bowl’s a special place,” says offensive tackle Khalid Cannon ’17. “It was where football was invented … Playing there, it’s just an indescribable feeling … Then to look in the stands and see it’s empty, it kinda just hurts your heart.”
Cannon’s teammate, fullback Jackson Stallings ’17, chimes in, “I remember standing on the 50 yard line on my visit here and just was overwhelmed with emotion at how great the place was. But you really start to take a close look at it and you realize the deterioration of such an important structure is truly sad, and you don’t want to let it get to a point where it can’t be brought back.”
Other team members lament what they feel is a further deterioration of the Bowl and its significance to Yale’s campus. And according to Kagan, it’s a trend we should fight to reverse. “Just the fact that we have athletics,” he asserts, “broadens our understanding of what the human is.”
Conn concludes with a commentary on the intrinsic value of football to the Yale experience. Ultimately, he says, the team and the Bowl have served as the foundation for modern American collegiate football. Going to the Bowl and watching the 107 shoulder-padded men who give life to the historic stadium, fosters both a school and a communal pride, a loyalty for all things Yale blue. For Conn, the lesson is evident: Go to football games.
This Saturday, the Bulldogs will take on Army to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Yale Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. I’d get there early. I hear there’s supposed to be a big crowd.
Americans love sports. They don their paraphernalia — a cap, a hoodie, a proof of fandom — and sit on a couch to have one-sided conversations with their television screens. They frequent stadiums to enjoy the action mere feet away, to relax, not relax, revel in the crowd. They get their fix, paradoxically enough, by creating their own fantasy teams, virtual fiefdoms in which the average father of four can concoct and manage a perfect roster of players built from real-life athletes. They cheer, jeer, cry, harangue, fill the taverns to celebrate a victory, take to the same taverns to mourn a defeat. No matter the outcome, pride for the sports junkie, in all its expressions, becomes a take-no-prisoners mentality, a stimulant and a shield.
The ways of the American are, naturally, not that uncommon. How could they be, when sports have been so vital, so universal to human history, ever since our Olympian forebears threw their first disc? A steadfast Red Sox fan in Massachusetts is no different from my dad back home in the Dominican Republic, whose right knee pops up every time David “Big Papi” Ortiz scores another decisive grand slam on ESPN. Forget plantains, forget rum: gifted baseball players have been the leading Dominican export of the past half-century. Accordingly, it is with baseball that I began my stormy dalliance with sports.
Age five, maybe six. It’s a Saturday. Dad wakes me up. We’re going to take a short trip, it seems, so no “Pinky and the Brain” for me this morning. I have vague impressions of what follows next.
In my polo shirt and khakis, I am driven to a nondescript, large terrain surrounded by low walls. I stand on a diamond of dirt, hiding behind my father’s legs as he talks to another man, the leader, I assume, of the pack of uniformed children sprinting and screaming around me so intensely. Dad takes me to the edge of the field. It takes me very few words to win this round against him. I shake my head, growing more reluctant even as he kneels down to plead his case. But, no, no, no, I say, I will not join a Little League baseball team. End of story.
In a stab at self-validation, I did join the soccer team in third grade. We practiced every Wednesday after class. I’ll rephrase: the other kids ran back and forth along the makeshift field while I sat and observed. I regularly grabbed handfuls of soil to smear on my white shirt so I could feign the illusion of an afternoon well spent.
Then, I tried my hand at golf, till a mishap with a 7-iron almost knocked my eye out of its socket. I never tucked away the bumpers at the edge of my bowling lane. I did a little bit of swimming. My foray into roller skating crumbled under weak ankles. The hacky sack outsmarted me. The exception, like manna from René Lacoste’s version of heaven, was the racquet. I hit those tennis balls with vigor no one ever thought I could muster. The clay courts, however, quickly bored me and the zeal vanished.
Given my athletic record, any modicum of sports knowledge I have I gained through watching my father watch baseball on TV, or hockey or college basketball or professional basketball or soccer or, most curious of all, football. American football. Legs crossed on the living room ottoman, I spent years teasing out the logic of what I considered the most martial of sports. Men in helmets, wearing protective gear, trying to burst through the rival’s defenses in order to achieve a sense of territory.
It never hit me. An imaginary playbook tried to form itself piecemeal in my head, to no avail. My own lack of interest made me wonder about the genesis of my father’s enthusiasm for football. Ah, well, of course, it was all that time rubbing elbows with those WASP-y chums in military school in New Jersey, and then college in Boston. Surely, I thought, this football, this fascination over a sport, was part of that addictive miasma of Americana of which we Gassós can’t get enough.
So I stuck it out. I stayed put by the TV. If I wasn’t going to fully connect with football, then at least it could provide me with cultural exposure through osmosis, with some kind of conditioning for the bumbling soul. But it was time wasted. I learned nothing about American fanaticism, no rules, no definitions for terms like “fake punt” and “cut blocking.”
Such futility is what dissuades me from picking up a ticket to The Game this Saturday. Year after year, The Game — that alleged zenith of school unity and “bow wow wow” — turns out to be one of the most alienating moments of my fall semester. It’s not the tailgate; roistering students I can handle. It’s not the blistering cold circling in the vacuum of the Yale Bowl.
It is the feeling that, even amid all the fanfare, I am still the scrawny teenager sitting on the ottoman, failing to find myself within that collective experience, the thrill of belonging that only sports can foster.