Conference realignments have led to some strange bedfellows in college athletics. Some probably are stranger than Rutgers University and the Big Ten, but none is more embarrassing.
Truthfully, it was an odd marriage even before everything hit the fan.
Rutgers may be a recognized research institution and highly ranked among public universities, which the Big Ten will tell you makes it an attractive mate, but this is all about TV sets and markets and money.
It could not have been athletics because Rutgers has been all but irrelevant on the national scene, and rarely relevant on its regional stage, for decades.
Since hosting the first game in college football history on Nov. 6, 1869, the Scarlet Knights were next heard from in 2006.
Rutgers’ main campus is located in New Brunswick, N.J. Its football stadium is situated across the Raritan River in Piscataway. Either way, it’s about 30 miles to midtown Manhattan.
Maybe that’s all the Big Ten Network needed to justify annexing the Scarlet Knights — all those TVs, all those advertising dollars.
Of course, the Big Ten may be kidding itself if it thinks many of those remote controls will produce big ratings because New York City is not exactly a college sports hotbed, give or take St. John’s basketball and … and … well, nothing.
To enhance the branding of the Big Ten in NYC, the league has signed on with the Pinstripe Bowl, a postseason game played at Yankee Stadium. The game has three years of history, pulls from a metro population of some 19 million people, and has never drawn as many as 40,000 fans. That includes the 2011 game that featured Rutgers.
This is the land of Giants and Jets, not Scarlet Knights to the south, Black Knights of the Hudson to the north, or even Orange to the far west. For better or worse, though, it’s Big Ten Country now.
And it’s mostly been for worse. When Big Ten expansion tabbed Rutgers and Maryland, effective the fall of 2014, it was thought the latter with its Detroit-like debt might just be the worst run operation in college sports. Now Rutgers begs to differ.
There was the abusive men’s basketball coach who was fired after some embarrassing practice videos went viral. The athletic director who sat on it for awhile was fired, too. The school saved some face by hiring a new coach whose bio claimed he was a Rutgers graduate, except that he wasn’t.
Now it is poised to hire a new athletic director, but skeletons are clanking against one another in her closet.
It seems that when she was a college coach she may have been a bit on the abusive side, too. Ah, wrong place, wrong time. Nice job of vetting candidates, eh? But she seems to be hanging on to the job with the support of a president who somehow has held on to his, as well, despite a historically inept athletic department turning into a national punch line on his watch.
Maybe I was wrong earlier. Rutgers is nationally relevant after all.
Anyway, Jim Delaney, the Big Ten commissioner, says nothing will derail Rutgers’ entry into his league. He says Rutgers’ problems are “local matters” and not conference matters. Good gracious, no. All that matters to this conference are all those TV sets in NYC.
So, Rutgers’ internal issues are not the Big Ten’s business.
But Rutgers’ business should be the Big Ten’s embarrassment.
Contact Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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