Yale Bowl, after 101 seasons, will display football after dark for the first time when Harvard meets the Bulldogs in November

By Joel Alderman

The venerable Yale Bowl, entering its 102nd year of college football, will, for the first time ever, have a game in progress after the sun has gone down.

No, it won’t be a night game, in the true sense of the word. But a good part of the contest will take place well after darkness has set in as Harvard and Yale square off on November 21st.

Although no official announcement has as yet been made, enough information is available to lead to the conclusion that it will indeed happen.

Both universities have released their coming football schedules, as has such sports sites as ESPN.com. All separately state that the kickoff for The Game will be at 2:30 PM. That’s when their past encounters were close to winding up.

According to Steve Conn, Yale Associate Athletics Director and Director of Sports Information, the lights will be installed and paid for by the network (not yet revealed) that will be televising the game. The network also determined the 2:30 starting time, which, as with all the games on the schedule, is always subject to change.

Although it wasn’t really necessary, I checked the meteorological timetable for November 21st, and it indicates that sunset in the area of the Bowl will be at 4:27 PM, Eastern Standard Time.

Most college football games last from two and a half to three hours in real time. Television, with its additional timeouts and delays, could push elapsed time over the three hour mark, especially if there are a lot of incomplete passing plays and penalties, which stop the clock.

Then there is the tie-breaker system, which has been used for the last 20 or so years. It can increase the real time of a game anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more, depending on how many extra sessions are required to determine a winner.

Harvard Yale 2005
The 2005 version of “The Game” might have ended in a tie if not for this winning touchdown scored by Harvard in the third overtime. Note the impending darkness.(AP Photo/Bob Child)

Consider the triple overtime contest in 2005 in the Bowl, won by Harvard over Yale, 30-24, the first game in the Ivy League to go that long. By the time it ended, with Harvard winning 30-24, it had gone about four hours, and the Bowl was almost enveloped in darkness.

Harvard coach Tim Murphy later remarked that the conditions brought up memories of “playing by the streetlights” as kids. And there was a question as to whether the officials would have allowed the game to continue or call it a tie after the third overtime, if Harvard had not won. It was that dark!

This year that can’t happen, even though by about four o’clock they will probably only be in the third quarter. Artificial lighting will be the solution to impending darkness.

Since Yale has not announced if it will construct light towers, and The Game is roughly only four months away, some sort of temporary lighting is the best bet. There is no indication whether the illumination will be incandescent, halogen, fluorescent or LED.

Whatever the means, the light won’t come from Mother Nature, once the sun disappears from the horizon on the Yale side of the field.

If it is a cloudy and foggy day, as has been known to happen, it might be well to stage the entire proceedings from 2:30 on with the help of the United Illuminating Company or some other electric supplier.

Speculation is that the later start will attract a larger television audience than a kickoff at 12-noon would. That is when many people are doing their Saturday shopping, working, doing family errands, attending high school or youth league games, or having lunch or brunch at their favorite coffee shops.

For local fans, those types of obligations have made it virtually impossible or too difficult to get to the Bowl by the noon kickoffs.

Starting at 2:30 might also benefit many Yalies, who, like most college students, like to “sleep-in” on weekends. By the time they would wake up, it was too late to arrive at the Bowl on time and so they didn’t bother.

The latest that Yale ever began a football contest in the Bowl was 4 PM. Rich Marazzi, in his book A Bowl Full of Memories, points out (Page 19) that the second game ever played in the Bowl, against Maine on Sept. 25, 1915, started at 4 o’clock. It had actually been scheduled for an hour earlier, but was moved back because of unusual heat that day.

One would have to go back over 70 years to find a game that began as late as 3 pm. It happened twice in 1943. The first time was on October 23rd, when Army, behind plebe and future all-American, Glenn Davis, beat Yale 39-7.

Then on November 14th that same year, with standard time in effect, The New York Times wrote that it was necessary to start the Princeton game at 3 o’clock “because of wartime classes.” Following morning showers, only 17,000 showed up, an attendance which The Times said was dominated by “trainees in service uniforms and their girls.”

The Bowl is the only Ivy League stadium to have never had lights

Over the past several years, the Yale Bowl gradually became the only stadium in the Ivy League never to have had lights, which seems ironic because all the other fields at the Yale sports complex (baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, and track) are illuminated.

Although Brown played a home game under lights in 2011, it was a temporary setup, like Yale’s will be this year.

The Special Olympics lit up the Bowl in 1995

In 1995 the Bowl was temporarily illuminated for the Special Olympics, an event which drew President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton. It was the first time a sitting U.S. President attended an event there. The spectacle of a fully illuminated Yale Bowl was viewed by probably the largest television audience to see any of its activities, before or since. The TV coverage went world-wide, which was not the worst kind of publicity for Yale and its historic Bowl.

A late kickoff could avert chaos

Starting at 2:30 will have advantages for the in-person crowd as well as the TV audience. Those who are traveling from New York, Boston, Hartford or other cities, not in the immediate vicinity, will have more time to get here. It could help spread out the traffic and alleviate the jams, since the cars would not all arrive within a short time.

Then there are the tailgaters. This tradition, which was born in the Ivy League, often keeps a large number of people in the parking lots enjoying gourmet cookouts and socializing with old friends.

As a result, when the games started at noon, it seemed as if half the crowds were still outside, and attendance would not reach its peak until perhaps the second quarter. Some people are known to have gone so far with partying that they skipped the games completely.

To make their seats for kickoffs, tailgate lunches would often begin at 10 AM, hardly the ideal hour to start eating or drinking.

Now, in 2015, tailgate lunches can be served at a normal hour, and the revelers can still make it inside to see a complete game.

Watching on TV will be better

Here’s an additional bonus for TV watchers. In past years the cameras were switched to the visitor’s side of the Bowl. As a result, on a clear day, they would be facing the sun, causing an imperfect picture and virtually washing out the yard line and field markers.

That won’t be as likely to happen this year, since the sun will be gone for most of the second half.

Opposition may not go away

One of the obstacles to having games after dark in the Yale Bowl could be opposition from Westville residents. Many of the crowds attending rock concerts in the 70s and 80s often caused damage and destruction when, upon leaving, they spilled out under cover of darkness and trampled over manicured lawns and other private property. There has not been another rock concert there since June 14, 1989, when 67,000 were present for the Eagles, Heart and Little River Band (A Bowl Full of Memories, Page 34).

Another problem that could be interesting to observe is the lighting (or lack thereof) in the parking lots. People looking for their cars at night might not easily spot them without the help of sunlight. Maybe fans should be advised to bring flashlights with them.

Answers and possible solutions to these and other issues will require some study and experimentation.

In summary, attendees at The Game next November will be treated to a sight nobody has ever seen- the field lit up by thousands of kilowatts while Yale and Harvard men set another precedent by playing football against each other at a time when they should be eating dinner.

And fans, who are returning home, would have to settle for warmed over meals.

The Game is catching up with the age of technology. Progress? You decide.

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