Who Will Play Holy Cross at Polar Park This Year?

Holy Cross will play at Polar Park for the 4th straight year. Signs point to one of their fiercest rivals being their opponent for their ballpark showcase.

Holy Cross is 2-1 in the EBW Classic since its inception in 2021.
Source: Alan Arsenault/ Worcester Tele

2023 will be the third year of one of FCS football's most lively traditions. For the fourth straight year, Holy Cross will play at Polar Park, the picturesque home of the Worcester Red Sox. The "Rose Bowl of the Bay State" serves as a showcase for both the Crusaders and Patriot League. Three realistic options exist for this game based on the Worcester Red Sox schedule.

Last season, the EBW Classic took place on September 30th since the International League postseason concluded on September 26th. Consequently, this rules out Holy Cross' home games against New Hampshire on September 7th and Yale on September 30th. As a result, the Crusaders' home games against Fordham on October 12th, Lehigh on November 9th, and Bucknell on November 16th are the only realistic options.

Bucknell: November 16th:

Several factors make the Bison the least likely opponent for this year's EBW Classic. The Bison have one EBW Classic under their belt, the "Polar Park Massacre" of 2022, in which they lost 57-0 to the Crusaders, trailing 37-0 at halftime. A repeat of this matchup lacks intrigue and thrill for both fanbases. Additionally, Bucknell does not travel well nor draw respectable home crowds. Three Bucknell home games drew less than 1100 fans, their games against Holy Cross (925), Lehigh (966), and Georgetown (1,004). Despite focusing on engaging the local Worcester community, the EBW Classic can benefit significantly from a sizeable visiting fan contingent. The attendance of the last two Classics failed to exceed 8000 fans after the inaugural edition sold out 9,500-seat Polar Park.

Lehigh: November 9th:

Lehigh is much more likely to appear in the EBW Classic than Bucknell. The Mountain Hawks have more fan support than Bucknell, with an average home attendance of 5,851. This dwarves the Bison’s average of 1,281 fans per home game. Lehigh's home game with arch-nemesis Lafayette, which drew 14,453 fans, skews that number. Without that game, the Mountain Hawks still had significantly better home attendance than the Bison with an average of 3,701. The Mountain Hawks were more competitive against Holy Cross than the Bison, losing a tight 28-24 contest to the Crusaders compared to the 55-27 blowout loss the Bison suffered against Holy Cross.

Still, distance is an issue for the Mountain Hawks. Lehigh's campus is a four-hour drive from Polar Park. The odds of Lehigh sending enough fans to make this year's EBW Classic a sellout are minuscule. Lehigh and Holy Cross are not particularly rivals, leading to apathy towards this matchup. Last year's Holy Cross game was Lehigh's second-lowest attended home game, with only a game against perennially hapless but improving Georgetown drawing fewer fans to Goodman Stadium. Consequently, Holy Cross-Lehigh is unlikely to be this year's EBW Classic.

Fordham: October 12th:

Hardly any game carried more importance in the Patriot League the last couple of years than the Ram-Crusader Cup. 2022's Ram-Crusader Cup saw some trickery on the "The Seven-Hills Special" push Holy Cross to a 53-52 win in overtime to give the Crusader the league crown over the Rams.

Last season's game saw Holy Cross stop a last-minute two-point conversion to preserve a 49-47 win. In addition to the high scoring on the field, the last two meetings saw impressive crowds.

The 17,592 fans that showed up to Fitton Field for the 2022 game were the largest crowd to watch a Holy Cross game since 1990. Last season, a sellout crowd filled Jack Coffey Field at Fordham for the Ram-Crusader Cup. Holy Cross-Fordham is comfortably the Patriot League's second-most notable rivalry behind Lafayette-Lehigh.

Recently, the rivalry called another ballpark home. Fordham and Holy Cross took the Ram-Crusader Cup to Yankee Stadium in 2016, drawing a crowd of 21,375. Witnessing the Rams beat their biggest rival at the Boston Red Sox's AAA club's ballpark is too enticing an experience for Fordham fans to pass up. Yankee fans make up a significant chunk of Fordham's student base, with Fordham's campus seated 5 miles from Yankee Stadium.

The Crusaders take the field for their 2016 game against Fordham at Yankee Stadium
Source: Holy Cross Athletics

Additionally, Fordham is substantially closer than both Bucknell and Lehigh. Fordham's campus is only 2.5 hours away from Polar Park. Comparatively, Bucknell is 5.5 hours away, and Lehigh is 4 hours from Polar Park.

Although not in dire straights, the EBW Classic could use rejuvenation. Two years of non-sellout crowds shows local fans no longer feel the initial thrill. Of the three potential opponents, Fordham has the best opportunity to return the classic to its original heights.