Bright Lights, Big City, Big Game

By Patrick Bohn ’05, November 9, 2018
IC and SUNY Cortland aim to break NCAA DIII attendance record at 2019 Cortaca Jug game at MetLife Stadium.

For decades, fans of the Ithaca College football program have referred to the annual Cortaca Jug game against SUNY Cortland as “The Biggest Little Game in America.” In 2019, they’ll have a chance to help turn that moniker into a reality.

At the annual Cortaca Jug press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 7, Susan Bassett, associate vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics and recreational sports at Ithaca College, announced that the 2019 game will be played on Nov. 16 just eight miles outside of New York City at MetLife Stadium, home of the NFL's New York Jets and Giants. 

The move takes a game that is contested annually on campuses just 21 miles apart into one of the biggest professional football stadiums in the country. And with good reason. While Cortaca typically draws around 10,000 fans each year, the two schools have a more ambitious goal for 2019: breaking the all-time NCAA Division III attendance record of 37,355 fans, set in 2017 by the University of St. Thomas and St. John’s University. That game was played at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins.

Ithaca has approximately 17,000 alumni in the greater New York City area. Sam Gelman ’13, president of the metro New York regional chapter of the Ithaca College Alumni Association, has seen first-hand how passionate they are about the rivalry.

“There’s so much excitement and energy around Cortaca, it really becomes ‘Cortaca Day’ for a lot of people,” Gelman said. “The move to MetLife is awesome, and it’s going to draw fans from all over the country.”  

The game will also provide a chance for many players to compete in front of friends and family from the area. “I grew up 15 minutes from MetLife, so this is a dream come true for me,” said wide receiver Andrew Vito ’21. “I’ve got younger siblings, and my parents can’t always come to the games here, so they’re already planning for this. It’s a testament to how passionate this rivalry is.”

Bassett expects the IC campus community to come out in full force as well. “This is about more than just athletics,” she said. “Similar to the 125th anniversary the college celebrated last year, this is going to be a campus-wide event that we think people will love.”

In 2017, head football coach Dan Swanstrom got his first taste of the Cortaca rivalry when he guided the Bombers to a 48-20 victory over the Red Dragons. This announcement has upped the stakes even more. “When I heard the news, there was a moment when I got goosebumps,” he said. “Our staff and players are incredibly excited.”

The Bombers and Red Dragons were invited to have the game in MetLife Stadium by the New York City Chapter of the National Football Foundation (NFF) — a nonprofit organization that aims to use the power of amateur football to develop scholarship, citizenship and athletic achievement in young people — as a part of a national celebration college football’s 150th anniversary.

“Being invited to take part in this event by the NFF says a lot about the excellence of these two schools, and their strong athletic roots,” said Bassett.

Four Ithaca alumni serve on the board of directors of the foundation’s New York City chapter: Chairman Marc Hudak ’90, founding board member Bob Garone ’87, director of communications Jim Bradley ’92, and Ethan Medley ’01.