Marc Hudak sat down and basked in the festivities for an event he helped organize at the historic New York Athletic Club back in 2016 as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the New York City Chapter of the National Football Foundation (NFF). It was a luncheon hosting the College of the Holy Cross and Fordham University prior to the annual Rams-Crusaders Cup match between the rival schools, which would take place on the grounds of Yankee Stadium that season.
Both Division I-AA institutions, Holy Cross and Fordham are small private schools whose football programs compete in the Patriot League. The rivalry nearly dates back to the turn of the 20th century in 1902 when the first squabble was held between both teams.
The 2016 cup would be Fordham’s to hoist, as the Rams would romp the Crusaders 54–14 that year at Yankee Stadium. Prior to Fordham’s throttling, though, Hudak, an Ithaca College alumnus and a key cog along the Bomber’s offensive line that won the Division III National Championship in 1988, a four-year participant in the 89-year-long grapple between IC and SUNY Cortland, sat at the luncheon, listening to members of the Holy Cross and Fordham programs speak before their small-school duel at one of professional sports’ most cherished cathedrals, and had a thought.
“We should do something like this for Ithaca College.”
Thus was the birth of an idea that lead to the NYC Chapter of the NFF thrusting the Cortaca Jug game into the national spotlight by hosting this year’s game at MetLife Stadium, the home of the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets, in East Rutherford, NJ. The game, which will close out each team’s regular season on Nov. 16, will serve as the largest stage either team has likely ever seen, putting an exclamation mark on the 2019 season that will begin in the coming week.
“I wanted to fight for it, and other people around me wanted me to fight for it,” Hudak said. “I think it’s really going to be a great day for the game and for both schools. It’s really turning out to be something special.”
Hudak said he spent the spring of 2017 reaching out to various entities about hosting the game. He had shared his idea with the rest of the Board of Directors for the NYC Chapter of the NFF, which featured Ithaca College alumni Robert M. Garone, Jim Bradley and J. Ethan Medley. Also on the board was Neil Glat, the President of the New York Jets. It was Glat who introduced Hudak to Ron VanDeVeen, the CEO of MetLife Stadium. In May 2018, Hudak arranged a meeting with VanDeVeen and pitched him the idea of hosting the Cortaca Jug game at the stadium. VanDeVeen expressed cautious interest and Hudak subsequently set about drawing up a plan and getting other parties on board.
In June 2018, Hudak called Ithaca College Athletic Director Susan Bassett, gave her the scope of the proposed project and asked her what her thoughts were on the overall idea.
“I said, ‘I love it. Let’s see if we can move it forward,’” Bassett recalled from her phone call with Hudak.
By that time, Ithaca College President Shirley Collado had just finished her first year in office. There was a new leader at the helm, and some changes to the college’s administration were still pending. William Guerrero, vice president of the Division of Finance and Administration, and Le Jerne Terry Cornish, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, were not going to start their jobs until July. Guilherme Costa, vice president, general counsel and secretary to the college’s Board of Trustees, was not going to start until fall. Bassett said because of all of the transition, Collado wanted to wait until September to discuss the proposal, when all of her senior staff arrived on campus.
In the meantime, Bassett said she spent the majority of the rest of the summer examining the feasibility of the proposal as well as convincing SUNY Cortland to accept the invitation to play in the game at MetLife Stadium, which was not a hard sell. Hudak said the contract was executed somewhere between September and October and the project was finalized in early November with just enough time to announce the news at last year’s Cortaca Jug press conference on Nov. 7.
Even though Hudak thought of the idea of hosting the Cortaca Jug game at a professional sports arena back in 2016, the project did not truly begin until May of last year. Bringing a project of this magnitude to fruition in a seven-month span was a tall order. Keeping it under wraps was equally as challenging.
“The people that were involved in communications, I don’t think we started talking to them until late October,” Bassett said. “Similar with the alumni office. We had to keep it very confidential because the worst thing would’ve been to have it out there and then not be able to do it, or decide we weren’t going to do it.”
After the announcement was made on Nov. 7, tickets sales opened up in December. Bassett said the college sold 19,000 tickets in the first weekend. In the past, she said the college usually sells out at 10,000 tickets for Cortaca Jug games at Butterfield Stadium. Overall, she estimates 28,000 tickets have been sold between both schools. The goal is to break the single-game attendance record Division III football game of 37,355 tickets, which was set in 2017 at a game at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, between the University of St. Thomas and St. John’s University.
While the majority of the outpouring over the news has been positive, not everyone is pleased with the fact that this year’s game will not be played at either Ithaca College or SUNY Cortland. Local residents took to social media to express their displeasure, complaining that it is too far of a distance for them to travel and wondering why a closer venue such as the Carrier Dome at Syracuse University wasn’t chosen. Hudak said other venues aside from MetLife Stadium were considered during the process, but declined to say the names of those venues.
Some replied to the news postings on Facebook saying that hosting the game at a further location is not fair to the alumni from both institutions that currently reside in upstate New York. That may not be the case for Ithaca College alumni, though.
According to Dave Maley, Director of Public Relations at Ithaca College’s Division of College Communications, about 17,000 alumni currently live in what the college describes as the “Greater New York City area,” which includes New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, Long Island and the Hudson Valley Suburbs. As for “Upstate New York”—the rest of the state, not including the “Greater New York City area”—Maley said there is an estimated 17,000 alumni living there as well. (The Ithaca Times reached out to SUNY Cortland in regards to the school’s alumni demographics in those areas, but did not receive a response.)
David Colin graduated from Ithaca College in 1987 and currently lives in Ridgewood, NJ. Colin, who will be attending the game this November, said while he understands that not playing the game in a local venue could be upsetting to those that live in the area, he still thinks it was a great choice due to the large number of alumni living nearby.
“It draws from the local community finances,” Colin said. “The hotels aren’t going to fill up that weekend […] you don’t get that extra visiting day, parents weekend. But for the alumni at large, I can tell you, from the reaction to people talking about it and stuff like that, I think they are very excited about it.”
“This will be the largest gathering of Ithaca College alumni in one place ever in the history of the college,” Bassett said. “This goes well beyond a football game. This is really a college event, an Ithaca College event. We have every corner of the college engaged and participating.”
One of the most common issues taken by some is the game is a “local tradition,” and it should remain so. When asked what her response would be to that argument, Bassett said it would not be fair to deny athletic training and broadcast/print journalism students, along with those on the football, cheerleading and dance teams, the opportunity to play, perform and work in such a high-profile environment.
Hudak said this will be an opportunity to share a local tradition nationally. When asked why more premier college football rivalries, such as the University of Michigan versus the Ohio State University, don't hold more neutral site events, he said an event like this would be far more fruitful for institutions like Ithaca College and SUNY Cortland.
“The National Football Foundation strives to promote and support amateur football at all levels,” he said. “Michigan and Ohio State, Alabama and Auburn, they don’t need help. The entertainment value for a game like that is there. Cortland-Ithaca is a perfect game to play here because there’s going to be a lot of people coming to the game that have never seen a high quality Division III football game. […] It’s good to give the little guy a chance.”