I became a Rutgers fan roughly six years ago. I was probably inclined to cheer for them before that but it was one particular night that I became a true fan. That was the night that Rutgers defeated the #3 ranked Louisville Cardinals. I was at a sports bar in Manhattan, where I’d moved about 18 months prior, when Jeremy Ito (The Judge) kicked the game winning field goal and the excitement in the bar was immense but when I walked outside to see the Empire State Building lit up in Scarlet Red and saw people running through the streets of NYC cheering like the Yankees just won another World Series was amazing. It was that moment that got me hooked.
I grew up in Southern New Jersey and played football for roughly 13 years before hanging up my cleats in favor of rowing boats in college. I graduated High School in 2001 and had friends who went to play “big-time” football before and after my time. One thing that I never realized until I look back on it now is that big time football never meant Rutgers. Often in South Jersey schools were measured against Penn State. Joe Pa might have a cult like following in the backwoods of Pennsylvania but he might as well have been outsourcing those jobs to South Jersey for decades.
Sometimes I find it amazing that people are legitimately excited about going to play football in places like South Bend Indiana or Ohio, Alabama, Mississippi, and yes even the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania when they could stay home or go to relatively much nicer locales with different scholarship offers. Most people tend to have some degree of pride in their homestate. At least people who make good football players probably have enough self-confidence to feel that their surroundings played some part in shaping their better than average abilities. Which explains why states with big football playing populations have good college programs (California, Texas, and Florida). However, when I was in high school and started thinking about playing sports in College it never even occurred to me that I could play big time football in New Jersey. Rutgers didn’t even register. Furthermore I don’t even think they were recruiting my school or area. Schools like Michigan State, West Virginia, Syracuse, Iowa, and even West Point sent delegations in to talk about recruiting but I don’t remember anyone so much as getting a letter from Rutgers. Given the number of athletes that I played with who did go on to play in college it’s dually surprising given how Rutgers was doing at the time. It would make sense that they would look for all the football talent they could find in their home state.
After graduating from Yale and moving to New York City I was somewhat lost as a College Football fan. I guess I'd always enjoyed cheering for Florida State for no particular reason and in 2005 there weren't many people who didn't enjoy watching USC dominate. As a New Jersey guy and a New York City resident it was easy to fall for the gritty local team just 30 minutes from my door. It was clear that they were vastly improved from my days as a potential recruit and almost didn't even resemble the same outfit as before. This was a different Rutgers.
Rutgers sits in a veritable sports hotbed. Football is huge in New Jersey and is vastly underrated on a national scale. I noted above that Florida, Texas, and California are the elite sources of top football talent but New Jersey, I'd argue sits just after them with states like Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana, and Alabama. When you consider that Rutgers is 30 minutes from NYC and 45 minutes from Philly, that landscape also improves dramatically. Until about 5 years ago that recruiting area was fertile ground for just about everyone but Rutgers. While that has changed significantly as of late, it can still improved even more. This is meant mainly to discuss my fandom or Rutgers Football but the potential for the Hoops team might be even bigger. I feel like Coach Rice has the basketball team now where the football team was in 2004 or 2005. They have some talent and there is a $60m development project in Hoops facilities so the future is bright for the team but it's still a few years away.
What all of this means is that with an impending move to the Big Ten, things are only going to keep improving for Rutgers. I've been a fan for 6 years and have never been more excited about the future of Rutgers Football and Basketball.
This is an article I've been meaning to write for about 10 months now. After Greg Schiano left, I was nervous but had high hopes and wanted to express my continued support and optimism for the school. During the Penn State scandal and sanctions I wanted to elaborate on what it would mean for Rutgers as their main "local" recruiting rival was weakened while other local teams such as UConn, Boston College, Syracuse, and Maryland were also all suffering from extended poor play. Now after six years of watching Rutgers and seeing them panned on a national scale it feels good to see such a leader in the area of Collegiate Athletics as Jim Delany vindicate everything I'd been feeling. How a school with great academics, in a fertile recruiting ground, sitting in the nations top TV market of NYC and next to the number four market in Philadelphia could build a program to become a national power.
Now as the Big Ten funds start to roll in (a reported $25m per school in 2011 vs. the $6m Big East payout) I expect Rutgers to perform even better in recruiting. The increase in revenue will directly impact increased exposure, increased clout, and improved facilities. All of this will directly impact and improve recruiting which is already on par with everyone in the Big Ten save Michigan and Ohio State. At that point it's just a matter of winning on the field. As the results on the field and the excitement of the product so will the fan support in the region (Philly, NJ, and NYC) which will also in turn improve recruiting. I anticipate this resulting in Rutgers being able to regular pull in Top 25 ranked classes if not better. All of that means that as teams come together, Rutgers should find themselves more often than not in the hunt to win Big Ten league championships.
All in all it's a great day for Rutgers. I am just as excited today for a potential Big East championship and a shot at the Orange Bowl as I am for the continued development of the Football and Basketball teams. The future is very bright as they exit the Big East and look to set a new precedent in the Big Ten. Huge thanks to Greg Schiano the architect of Rutgers Football legitimacy, Tim Pernetti the AD with a vision and a plan to achieve it, all the great players who were proud to be Scarlet Knights and played their hearts out for the fans that bELieved in them, and finally Coach Kyle Flood for keeping everyone's eye on the ball over the eventful last year. Rutgers was 1-0 this week.
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