As a fan of both Rutgers and Big East football, I usually try to defend the conference against its mightier and more profitable leagues.
The Big East has amassed a 12-4 bowl game record the last three seasons. Since the two former Big East powerhouse schools in Miami and Virginia Tech left for the ACC in 2003, the conference has gone a respectable 3-2 in BCS games.
This time, I cannot. Allegedly, the Big East wanted to get a Labor Day rivalry game to open the season. The Big East is taking its defending champion and one of the real feel-good stories of the college football season, the Cincinnati Bearcats, on the road to play a conference rival in the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
The Bearcats deserved an opportunity to open at home and raise the championship banner instead of facing a game they could lose on the road.
Remember, when Miami and Florida State began their Labor Day rivalry, Miami was in the Big East. Now that both are ACC members the tradition continues, but it makes less sense.
Most other schools use the opening week as almost a preseason week where they stay home and face either a FCS school (formerly I-AA) or a low-level FBS school.
But the game will be played on Labor Day, and it should be a good one at that.
Rutgers and Cincinnati have put together a nice little rivalry over the years. This began even before they were both in the same conference. You can go back to 1992, when Cincinnati crushed Rutgers' hopes of making its first bowl game since 1978 with a 26-24 victory.
In 2005, Rutgers beat Cincinnati 44-9 to finally get that monkey off their back and accepted an invitation to the Insight Bowl. The following season, Cincinnati stunned previously unbeaten and No. 7-ranked Rutgers 30-11 in November. Cincinnati won in 2007 by five points in Piscataway, and in 2008, the Bearcats bested Rutgers by three points at home en route to their first Big East championship.
When given the news about the opening game, Cincinnati’s head coach Brian Kelly had this to say, “I screamed. I yelled. It did no good. At some time we have to be able to step back a little bit and go with what’s in the best interest of our teams more so than what’s in the best interest of our conference.”
The team that loses this game will have one conference loss with a month to mull it over.
The next Big East football game is not until Oct. 2, when Louisville travels to Pittsburgh.
Labor Day should be a time where your team plays at home for the first time and opens up against a team it will likely defeat by a reasonable margin. The rest of the conference appears to have gotten that memo.
Here are the other preseason contenders for the Big East title schedule on opening weekend:
Liberty at West Virginia
Wofford at South Florida
Youngstown State at Pittsburgh
The game will be played on Labor Day, Sept. 7 at 4:00 PM. This Monday night game will be televised on ESPN. While the TV exposure is nice for the Big East conference, how many will be spending that last real day off in the summer to stay inside and watch football is to be determined.
The tradition in New Jersey on Labor Day is to grab one final weekend at the Jersey Shore before the younger ones begin school again.
The newly renovated Rutgers Stadium should be close to capacity. There are a few tickets available. But how many other New Jerseyans and college football fans in general will be glued to their television sets for this pretty important opener?
November should be the month where the Big East football season fully takes shape and we find out who is going to represent the league in January.
I doubt that the Big East will change a Connecticut-Syracuse basketball game to November this upcoming season. You would not want to waste one of your premier match-ups during a time when people are more focused on pigskin than hardwood.
Just like you would not want to waste a weekend when people are thinking about sunsets rather than what is being communicated to the head coach’s headset.
But, come Labor Day evening, the Big East has just created a new version of the summertime blues for one of their contenders.