How Rutgers Can Transform New York into a College Football Town
Last night's Pac-10 matchup between Oregon and Oregon State, dubbed "The Civil War," was about as close as a football game can come to actually being war.
The two teams battled back and forth before Oregon finally outlasted its rival Oregon State, 37-33, to clinch a berth in the Rose Bowl, Oregon's first since 1995.
It was a fantastic display of college football and was as entertaining as sports can be.
You may ask, what does this game have to do with New York? The answer is simple: This is the kind of college football that the Big Apple misses out on year after year.
It was fitting that the Jets were tabbed to play in the NFL's Thursday night game. I think it would be safe to say that many of the people in the New York Metropolitan area, if they in fact were watching football tonight, chose to watch a lackluster Jets-Bills game that saw both teams struggle to move the ball at times.
How many New Yorkers missed out on watching Jeremiah Masoli make clutch play after clutch play or watching as pandemonium ensued at Autzen Stadium once the final whistle had blown?
The answer is, probably not too many. But certainly it is no secret that New York is not a college football town.
But there is hope.
Hope lies in the lands of the school that played in the first ever organized college football game, the school that was once so bad that it was the laughingstock of its own conference but now is on the cusp of becoming a national power: the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
With no other FBS (or I-A) teams in the New York area, Rutgers has already established itself as a draw in the area, which has led to a stadium renovation. Really, though, all of the hype surrounding the team has stemmed from their one marquee win, a 2006 win in dramatic fashion 28-25 over then No. 3-ranked Louisville.
Some may debate how big that win was, but being a resident of North Jersey, only 15 minutes or so from New York itself, I can say that the win resonated all over the area.
People who I knew never to care about college football were talking about the game for days, and it created a never before seen frenzy surrounding college football. To think that was just one game.
The New York area, for all of its sports, is a split market. The NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL all have multiple options for fans to root for. For Rutgers, they are pretty much unopposed other than competition from fans who like an out-of-market team already.
This could have a unifying factor in an area where Met fans are constantly at war with their Yankee fan brethren, and Giants and Jets fans are constantly fighting for Meadowlands supremacy. The New York area can come together to root for the Scarlet Knights.
So what is the point to this argument? It's simple. Rutgers is poised to break out next year, as a promising freshman class began to lead the boys of Piscataway late in the season and is set for a tremendous year ahead.
If Rutgers starts playing multiple games at the level of the Louisville game, the sky is the limit for how big college football could become in New York.
While the pro game is fun, there are many things that college football has that cannot be found in the NFL. For one, the tailgating and insanity prior to a major college football game are unrivaled. Hundreds of crazy—and usually inebriated—college students and alumni pack the parking lots early to take part in the pregame festivities.
There is a passion and a desire among the players that is not seen, as for many players their last few games as a college player will be their last. As someone who has spent time in an NFL locker room, I can say that almost all of the players carry their tremendous school pride with them even into the NFL.
College football needs New York, as it has never really gained a footing in the biggest television market in the country. New York needs college football as well, and it will need Rutgers to be competitive, considering that minus the Yankees and the Giants most of the teams in the area have had less than satisfactory results in recent years.
Certainly a few things could be done to make this happen.
First off, the Big East needs a championship game. Whether it is the NCAA lifting the rule on conferences having 12 teams in order to have a Championship game, or if the Big East takes on a few more programs, a championship played at, say, the new Meadowlands Stadium annually would become an instant hit.
Rutgers and its coach Greg Schiano are at a crossroads in their program. If they are able to take the next step, Schiano could become one of the biggest figures in New York sports, and Rutgers could become a national powerhouse. Soon the Scarlet Knights may be playing games where thousands of fans storm the field after a big win to take them to their first ever BCS game.
Watch out for 2010, the year where college football could become big time in the Big Apple.
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