A Gambler’s Guide to Harvard-Yale

By Julian Ryan

This Saturday Harvard will host Yale for the 131st iteration of The Game. Each school’s student body will descend upon the campus and at the end of the day there will be a winner, but who will win and by how much?

Harvard is 9-0 this season, ranked #14 in the FCS polls and has already wrapped up a share of the Ivy League championship. Beating Yale would just be the icing on the cake to an already impressive season and clinch the Ivy championship outright. Yale would be in the same boat but lost at home to Dartmouth leaving them 8-1 overall and 5-1 in Ivy play. They come in as the underdogs, but still playing for a share of the title.

To evaluate each team’s gameday chances, I created a simple ranking system for the Ivy League. The system is only based off Ivy League games and it estimates each team’s expected point differential over the hypothetical “average Ivy League team” on a neutral field. After adjusting each game’s point differential by 3 points for home field advantage, we get the following results:

Team Overall Record Ivy Record SRS
Harvard 9-0 6-0 +18.4
Yale 8-1 5-1 +9.9
Dartmouth 7-2 5-1 +13.4
Princeton 5-4 4-2 -1.5
Brown 4-5 2-4 +1.5
Penn 1-8 1-5 -3.1
Cornell 1-8 1-5 -17.3
Columbia 0-9 0-6 -21.4

As suggested by their record and general dominance, Harvard has been the best team in the Ivies this season. Yale are commendable (ish) for claiming third best in the conference, but Harvard has already passed its toughest test with a win on the road at Dartmouth three weeks ago.

After taking into account home field advantage, my system suggests Harvard should be favored by 11.5 points, which is almost identical to the current +12 spread from the bookies. To convert my system to a win probability, we can assume the deviation from the spread follows a normal distribution with a mean of 0 and a standard deviation of 16, which translates to Harvard winning 76.4% of the time.

Yuck Fale, baby.

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