Countdown to Cortaca: The Road to MetLife Stadium, Part 1

By Kerry C. Regan, March 8, 2019
‘A Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience’ — Q&A on 2019 Cortaca Jug with A.D. Susan Bassett '79
IC and Cortland helmets over MetLife Stadium

The 61st Cortaca Jug football game between Ithaca College and Cortland State University will be played on its biggest stage yet this fall — MetLife Stadium, the home of the National Football League’s New York Giants and New York Jets. To shine a light on this historic matchup, we will run a 10-part series in this space leading up to game day on Saturday, Nov. 16 at 1 p.m. We’ll cover all things Cortaca — interviews with Cortaca Jug legends, plans for alumni gatherings around the nation, ways the game is being incorporated in academic programs and other topics. In this first installment, Susan Bassett 79, director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreational Sports and chair of the IC 2019 Cortaca Jug Steering Committee, answers questions about this year’s game and how IC is taking advantage of its elevated profile.

Q: Why is IC moving the 2019 Cortaca Jug game from campus to New Jersey?

This year marks the 150th season of collegiate football. Many celebrations are planned, and the nonprofit National Football Foundation (NFF) invited us to host the 2019 Cortaca Jug game at MetLife Stadium as part of this anniversary celebration.

Needless to say, we accepted. What a great opportunity! This is Metro New York’s marquee football stadium, just a few miles from the bright lights of New York City. It’s the home of the New York Jets and Giants and the site of the 2014 Super Bowl. What a thrill for our players and our fans!

From an institutional perspective, this puts IC on the national stage, giving us broad visibility and potentially enhancing our reputation with our many constituents in the New York metro area. That includes about 17,000 IC alumni, and we already know that many of them will be a part of this landmark game based on brisk ticket sales to date.

"'The biggest little game in the nation will be played on one of the world’s biggest stages." 

Susan Bassett ’79, Ithaca College Director of Intercollegiate Athletics

Q: What’s new on the road to Cortaca Jug 2019 at MetLife Stadium?

There’s a lot of momentum building around the game, and we’ve made a lot of progress since we announced our plans back in November. It’s a bold move, and we’re very excited about our efforts to find as many ways as possible to leverage and maximize the experience for the entire campus community, and for our alumni and friends.

Here on campus, we’re seeing a number of integrative learning and IC partner opportunities related to the game — from student engagement and recruitment to alumni relations and donor cultivation. And we’re doing our best to take advantage of as many of them as we can.

The big picture is that “the biggest little game in the nation” will be played on one of the world’s biggest stages. It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will almost certainly be memorable for everyone who gets involved.

Athletic directors and football coaches from Ithaca College and Cortland State hold the Cortaca Jugs

(From left) Mike Urtz, SUNY Cortland director of athletics; Dan MacNeill, SUNY Cortland head football coach; Dan Swanstrom, Ithaca College head football coach; and Susan Bassett, associate vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics and recreational sports at Ithaca College at the press conference on Nov. 7.

(Photo by Charles McKenzie/Ithaca College)

Q: How have the players and coaches reacted?

They’re thrilled. Head Coach Dan Swanstrom, the student athletes and the staff all see this as the highlight of next season. For many players it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in an NFL stadium. And for the ones from the New York metro area, it’s also a homecoming. The Cortaca Jug is always a big game. Cortland State is a huge rival. And playing it at MetLife adds a whole new dimension to the already great rivalry. So everybody’s really excited.

Q: How is the college managing this extraordinary undertaking?

A steering committee, led by yours truly, was formed late last year.  The other members from the college are Dean Sean Reid from the School of Business, Claudia Ayers and Paul Hesler 87 from Institutional Advancement, and Bob Wagner from College Communications.

The other members of the steering committee are Marc Hudak 90, who is chairman of the New York City chapter of the National Football Foundation, and David Meberg 85, a member of our Board of Trustees.

We also have a full planning committee in place composed of about 25 representatives from across campus — including all five schools and the Student Governance Council. The committee has established 16 functional teams — ranging from Student and Campus Engagement, to Experiential Learning, Event Program and Operations, Public Safety and Transportation, and Ticket Sales. 

Q: What is the biggest challenge you face in preparing for this game?

The biggest challenge probably is being sure we’re addressing all of the many opportunities this game presents for our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. But that said, we haven’t encountered any major stumbling blocks or hurdles at this point. It’s all positive.

"It looks like this game will prove to be the largest gathering of IC alumni in one place, ever."

Susan Bassett ’79, Ithaca College Director of Intercollegiate Athletics

Q: How are ticket sales going?

Great! More than 25,000 tickets have already been sold, and 10,000 more tickets are set aside for members of the IC and Cortland campus communities — students, faculty and staff — to go on sale in the fall. 

We’re very encouraged by these figures, and given that Cortland State has 18,000 alumni in the New York City metro area to go along with our 17,000, we think we’ve got a good shot at breaking the Division III attendance record of 37,355. That was set in 2017, when St. Thomas and St. John’s played at Target Field in Minneapolis. It’s a bit of a leap from the 10,000 or so we usually get to Cortaca games on campus, but we’re pretty confident we can get there, and we’ve made it our goal.

And for anyone interested in buying a ticket, they are on sale at www.cortacajug.com.

Q: Who is buying these tickets so far in advance?

Mostly it’s alumni of the two schools. And the fact that so many have purchased tickets so far in advance says a lot about the enthusiasm that our alumni, friends and fans bring to this intense rivalry.

Q: What can the college community do to get involved?

Foremost, we’d love to see as many students, faculty and staff take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Support the team by attending the game, if you can.

We also encourage you to bring your own creativity to Cortaca 2019. For example, Annemarie Farrell, associate professor and chair of the Department of Sport Management in the School of Business, has assigned the game as the focus of the final sport marketing plan for students in one of her classes. Groups have begun working together to draft a comprehensive marketing plan for the big game. This is the first class we’re aware of that is incorporating Cortaca as a project, and we’d love to see more of this integrative type of learning around the game.

If you have an idea — or a question — about how to take advantage of Cortaca Jug 2019, please reach out to a member of the Steering Committee: that’s Sean, Claudia, Paul, Bob, or me.

football players face off on the field

Ithaca College won the 2018 matchup between the Bombers and the Red Dragons.

(Photo by Tim McKinney/Ithaca College)

Q: What do you have in mind for alumni?

We plan to engage alumni in a number of ways, including receptions, tailgating opportunities and special seating options. We’re still early in the planning stage, so we don’t have a lot of specifics to report yet, but rest assured we plan to welcome alumni to Cortaca 2019 and make them feel they’ve come home.

By the way, in addition to breaking the attendance record for a Division III football game, it looks like this game will prove to be the largest gathering of IC alumni in one place, ever, which up to now is probably about 4,000 at the 125th IC anniversary celebration here on campus last year. We’re confident our alumni are going to rally around this and make it happen.

Q: Is Cortaca Jug 2019 merchandise available?

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to plug that. Yes, Cortaca Jug 2019-branded T-shirts and other merchandise has arrived at the campus store and also is available on the website at: www.ithaca.edu/cortaca-shop.

Q: Any last words?

Just this: Go Bombers!

Up next in our series: “When Cortaca Got Its Second Wind.”

The Cortaca Jug Series will have its 61st game this fall at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. But in the mid-1980s, the series was losing a bit of its sheen as the Cortland Red Dragons lapsed into mediocrity. That was when IC-alum Dennis Kayser became head coach and turned around the Cortland program — and the Cortaca Jug Series.