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The 150th "Rivalry" - At A Neutral Location?

Picture this: it's November 22nd, 2014, the day when Lehigh and Lafayette face off for a historic 150th time on the gridiron.

But instead of heading over to Fisher Field in Easton or Murray Goodman stadium in Bethlehem - you're going somewhere else.

You're taking your mimosas and fried turkeys and heading to Citizens Bank Park - home of the Phillies - for a fantastic, full day of tailgating, events - and, obviously, bitter hatred of the Leopards or Mountain Hawks.

The idea of bringing "The Rivalry" to a neutral location is still in its infancy, but is still a very intriguing prospect that could bring with it a lot of new fans, TV exposure... and fun. (more)

Discussions for this idea have been going on informally for the past couple years between the Leopards and Mountain Hawks, but lately it has gone from faraway concept to asking some of the questions pertaining to how such an event could take place.

"The Rivalry" is a Lehigh Valley institution, and it's hard for some to picture it being held outside the Lehigh Valley, even if it means the potential of a bigger crowd, a national TV audience, and an entire day filled with activities.

That's despite the fact that Lehigh and Lafayette have played in a neutral site before.

In 1891, Lehigh and Lafayette students, players, and supporters hopped on a Central Railroad of New Jersey train to play an exhibition game in Wilkes-Barre, PA, the terminus of that leg of the CRRNJ train system.

Lehigh would win the game against heavily injured Lafayette 16-2, and would provide a crowd of over 5,000 fans, "... by far the largest crowd that ever witnessed a football game in Wilkes-Barre, and the cheering of the students seemed to startle the natives," according to one local paper. Another paper, the Pittsburg Dispatch, said the game was considered an "inter-collegiate championship game," and was "scientifically played on a poor field," the field in this case being West Side Park.

(Oddly enough, it would be a year after this game that Mansfield and Wyoming Seminary would play what was considered the first-ever night football game at the Great Mansfield fairgrounds, powered by light bulbs and electricity provided by none other than Thomas Edison and General Electric.)

If the concept of a neutral site game for the 150th meeting between Lehigh and Lafayette comes to fruition, 123 years after the last neutral-site Lehigh/Lafayette game, you can bet it won't involve trains and the "Diamond City".  It might, however, involve a lot of light bulbs and a first for "The Rivalry" - playing the game at night.

Think about it.  Having a 6PM or 8PM kickoff would allow not only larger crowds - the largest in Rivalry history - but would also allow both Lehigh and Lafayette to schedule a whole slew of events and fun for everyone.  Roast pig on a spit outside the Linc?  Lehigh's Marching 97 parading around Citizens Bank Park?  Concerts and a bonfire near Princeton Stadium?  All of these possibilities come into play if Lehigh and Lafayette can agree to move the game to a neutral location.

Moving the venue and the date, too, could potentially make Lehigh and Lafayette a highlight for the entire sport of college football during what ESPN has called "Rivalry Week".  College Gameday showing up at Franklin Field at 7PM for a Lehigh/Lafayette game... on a Thursday?  It could happen.

Of course, it's not as easy as putting up a few light bulbs at Kraft Stadium, or taking a bus to Rutgers stadium.  Both Lehigh and Lafayette would have to be in agreement on the events and the spectacle.  Revenue would have to be split.  And, of course, something would need to be done about the fact that Lafayette would be forsaking a home game for the 150th, the game that provides so much excitement - and fans - to Easton every other November.

Maybe a multi-game deal to bring two Lehigh/Lafayette games to a neutral stadium might be the answer, meaning both Lehigh and Lafayette end up sacrificing home games.  Or shifting out the home games, meaning the 151st would now be played under the lights at Fisher Field instead of Murray Goodman, and so on.

To me, this isn't about the diehards that would go to Lehigh/Lafayette even if it were played in Saskatchewan. It's about exposing Lehigh/Lafayette craziness to a brand new group of people - young folks who haven't heard of The Rivalry, and (yes) the casual fan that doesn't know Lafayette from Louisiana-Lafayette. Wherever the 150th is played, it will be a sellout, and it's something the players will remember the rest of their lives. If there's an opportunity to play that game in a huge stadium, in front of the national cameras, why not take it?

What do you think? Would you be interested in a neutral-site 150th game? How far would you be willing to travel? Would you be interested if it was a full-day affair - or if the game were on national television on a Thursday night?

Personally, I think it's a great idea - as long as the details can be worked out that makes both sides happy.


LUHawker said…

On the surface I like all of the concepts of exposing more people to L-L, the extra publicity and big hoopla surrounding the game, but I struggle with moving it out of the Lehigh Valley, which is what most surely would have to happen for those other things to play out. If the game was scheduled to be played at Goodman where lights could be brougt in as well as significantly more seating, then I would not move the game. This isn't just a case of I'd rather have the game at Lehigh because I'm an LU guy either; I'd be ok with a similar situation in Easton, but don't think Lafayette can accomodate those demands. Playing at either Penn or Princeton "feels" like it cheapens the experience for both LU and LC fans and I am not excited about seeing the game at a baseball stadium. Would Philly fans really care that much? If anything, Delaware fans might show up for the spectacle. Lehigh-Lafayette has always been about the students, alumni and locals and has never been about the casual fan, so I am not sure that the schools get more from moving the game elsewhere as it might diminish the experience for the base of fans that attend this game.

I think a Thursday night game at a neutral venue could help overcome some of the other drawbacks and be interesting but only if all the students are able to make the game. I'm not sure that either LU or LC students have shown much willingness to travel, even when games are nearby.

IF this were to materialize then I think it should be played at Franklin Field, Princeton or Rutgers (and not necessarily in that order) given both proximity and historical ties with those schools.

The more I write here, the less convived I feel about moving the game. I'll need to noodle this one more.

Best solution in my opinion is to find a way to play this game in Bethlehem. If I were a Pard fan, I would never want to give up the game, but this is the most logical solution when you set aside biases, allegiances and emotions and just look at the facts.

Who knows maybe LU and LC can find a way to meet in the playoffs before this happens.
Doug-H said…
I see no real reason for this... What is wrong with a Saturday afternoon in late November??? Last thing I would want as a fan at the game would be a night game in mid-late November... talk about No Shows... What about those of us out around the country who use that Saturday afternoon event in November as a way to connect to local alumni???? Even though the game is becoming more and more available on Direct TV and cable TV through media such as Fox College Sports, the L-L telecast party is still the main way people around the country are able to watch and enjoy as a group..

The other item I've also noticed especially those years when the game is held in Goodman is the number of empty seats... They say they are sold and maybe fans don't want to show up when its cold... another reason to avoid night game..
mailman said…
when something is perfect,you leave it alone...don't be greedy and ruin a classic for the money

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