Ivy League Game Parallels Politics

If you want to know who the next president will be, you might want to keep your eye on Saturday’s Yale-Harvard football game in Cambridge, Mass.

Based on a trend during presidential election years since 1940, a Yale victory in this November matchup between Ivy League rivals has meant a Republican won the presidency that year, while a win by the Democrats has translated into a Harvard victory. The two exceptions to this trend came in 1960 and 1976.

The interesting twist this year is that the presidential candidates attended these two universities. Texas Gov. George W. Bush graduated from Yale in 1968, while Vice President Al Gore earned his degree from Harvard in 1969.

Since the 2000 presidential election is yet to be decided, the superstitious might opt to cheer a little harder for their favorite team.

“Why not let the 117th playing of The Game,” as the rivalry is called, “determine the next leader of the free world?” Yale asks in a press release.

Coincidental Victories

Yale and Harvard are playing The Game for the 117th time. Theirs is the third most-played series in college football. Only Lehigh-Lafayette (136 meetings) and Princeton-Yale (123) have met more often.

Harvard trails the all-time series 63-48-8.

This coincidental link between Ivy League football and the presidential election began in 1940, when Harvard blanked Yale 28-0 and Democratic incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt also easily defeated his opponent, Alfred Landon, by capturing 523 Electoral College votes.

Since then, Republican presidents and Yale, and Democratic presidents and Harvard, have largely gone hand in hand.

In 1956, Yale won the first official Ivy League championship with a 42-14 win over Harvard. Just 18 days prior, Republican Dwight Eisenhower was re-elected president.

In more recent memory, Harvard shut out Yale 14-0 in 1992, when Democrat Bill Clinton was elected to office.

Still, there have been exceptions to this 56-year trend. In 1960, Yale completed its first undefeated season since 1923 by beating Harvard 39-6. However, Democrat John F. Kennedy (a Harvard alum) narrowly defeated Republican opponent Richard Nixon for the presidency.

In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter beat Republican incumbent Gerald Ford, but the Crimson nevertheless fell to Yale, 21-7.

Die-hard Harvard fans might point out another exception. In 1968, the year Nixon was elected to his first presidential term, Harvard and Yale tied 29-29. But many Harvard fans still call that game a win because the Crimson scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds to clinch the tie.

Spotlight on This Year’s Game

Traditionally, the presidential election has been held two to three weeks prior to The Game. But this year, the two events overlap as the legal wrangling and ballout recounting continue in Florida.

Yale (6-3, 3-3 in the Ivy League) is the defending league champion, having clinched the title last year when Joe Walland threw for school records of 437 yards on 42 completions and 67 attempts against Harvard.

Harvard (5-4, 4-2), meanwhile, lost a chance to play for the Ivy title last week when the Crimson missed a 33-yard, last-second field goal and lost to the University of Pennsylvania 36-35.

The Ivy League foes will be playing for second place in the league, while Bush and Gore are competing for first place in national politics.

The players, at least, are focusing on the rivalry in Cambridge, not the one that’s playing out in Florida.

“The locker room discussions don’t get very political,” said Harvard long-snapper Brian Sponheimer, a government major and Gore supporter who grew up near the Yale campus in New Haven, Conn. “It’s been more talk on the other side of the river,” where the classrooms are.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.