The prospect of joining the Big 10 conference is an exciting one for Rutgers fans, but it has to make Scarlet Knight Nation a bit uneasy.
For Rutgers, it is no secret that football is the driving force for the athletic department. Many detractors of R.U. athletics point to over-spending when it comes to football. They watch as money is poured into recruiting lounges, stadium expansion, and of course, Greg Schiano's salary and on-campus residence.
As the university cries poor, and the state cuts funding, football has become quite a target. It is for these financial reasons that local New Jersey media believe a move to the Big 10 to be "not in the school's best interest".
It is easy to forget that sports, finances, and academia all go hand-in-hand, and particularly in the Big 10, this is the case. There is no conference that rivals The Big Ten's athletic and academic balance.
While the Ivy League leads academically, and arguably the SEC owns the nation athletically, the Big 10 achieves something that other conferences do not, and that is a perfect balance of academia and athletics.
Analyzing a move to the Big 10 from a purely athletic standpoint, we must look at Rutgers' strength right now and that is its football program. As far as football goes, the Big East is a sinking ship. If Rutgers doesn't jump to the Big 10, Pittsburgh, Uconn, or Syracuse will. Then, scenarios have been painted where West Virginia could wind up in the SEC or ACC along with UConn who wants football to be a bigger part of its athletic department.
However, for Rutgers' fans, bowl games have become a staple of the winter holidays, and something upon which to hang their hats. There is something "safe" about staying in the Big East, playing a challenging, but risk-free schedule where Rutgers can assure itself of 7-8 wins on a yearly basis, and post season football.
Playing it that way though could lead the program into stagnation; just ask a Maryland or UConn fan. At this point, Rutgers will get its hands on mostly mid-level recruits with a few top-tiered recruits and play good football on a year in and year out basis.
If the goal is truly to "keep the top players in New Jersey" and to "win championships at Rutgers" - both stated goals by Greg Schiano himself, then a move to the Big 10 is an absolute must.
While it is of course risky to start a season knowing that you will play five to six games against top-25 teams, two to three of which are likely to be top 10 teams, it puts you in position to play with the elite.
The prospect of playing Ohio State, Penn State, or Michigan on national television on a Saturday night is appealing to a top football prospect. Saturday at noon or 3:30, or Thursday night, though a lot of fun, just isn't the same.
The R.U. fan-base however, will have to understand just what a move like this means. Some years, the team will be 5-7 or 6-6 and miss out on a bowl game. That is something that the Rutgers fan base just cannot seem to deal with currently.
We have seen the stadium packed and full of energy on week one, and then half full and listless on week two all because of one loss. Rutgers fans must get smarter. It is a different brand of football in the Big 10. You can have a good football team and struggle to win.
As for basketball, a move to the Big 10 is a no-brainer. The team as constituted will have a daunting task getting to the middle of the pack in the gauntlet that is the Big East.
Even with some program defections, the conference will still be chock full of powerhouses and local competition for ball-players.
The Big 10 has some good teams, but is not as deep as the Big East top to bottom. It would be a new beginning for the program and an opportunity to achieve respectability and to produce competitive basketball teams much quicker than in the Big East.
So, for Rutgers fans the Big 10 represents the next step in the journey to national prominence, athletic achievement, and academic excellence. While there are pitfalls, if we look at the big picture and understand the risks involved, it is an absolute gift that the Big 10 is taking a long hard look at Rutgers; that is something that would have never happened just five years ago and it demonstrates just how far the athletic department has come.
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