Rutgers Athletics’ dramatic week concludes with more-dramatic opening night
A week of doom for the Rutgers athletic department almost spilled onto the basketball court on Thursday night. The men’s basketball team nearly blew a 16-point lead in the final minutes against Bryant University. A last-second three-point shot by Bryant’s Adam Grant bounced off the rim as time expired, granting the Rutgers Scarlet Knights a 73-71 victory over the Bulldogs at home. The victory gave a nice start to the team’s 2019-20 campaign.
Good Start, Bad Week
A week highlighted by news of harm, history, and hirings (or lack-there-of) came to a blissful conclusion for the University on opening night. This was a much-needed win for a department that had the task of balancing celebration with abomination in the past seven days. The win also marks the start of a campaign with some high-profile expectations for athletic director Pat Hobbs, perhaps the highest of his tenure. Coming off a year that saw program-best accomplishments in the Big Ten, Rutgers was named Sports Illustrated’s and KenPom’s most improved team heading into this season. For Hobbs, who comes from a men’s basketball background, this year’s team may come to define his work at Rutgers.
Hobbs took the court in between halves to shake hands and wave to the student section, a moment on the court for him that interrupted a week defined by off-the-court headlines. His celebration comes within two days of receiving a call for his resignation. Two New Jersey lawmakers harped on a report by NJ Advance Media, alleging that Hobbs tolerated allegations of abuse by softball head coach Kirsten Butler. He followed by directing a profanity-laden tirade toward the reporters breaking the story. The University’s third coaching abuse scandal of the decade was just the opening act for the celebration of the previous 15 decades of a football program that has abused its fan base this season.
Despite the allegations against Butler, her position may still be more secure than that of the next football coach. The top-two candidates vying for the position met with Hobbs on its historic anniversary week. Both may be priced out of Hobbs’ list. Alabama offensive analyst Butch Jones withdrew his name from the position yesterday. According to a report by NJ.com, Former Rutgers head coach and fan favorite, Greg Schiano, asked for more than the department can afford. A campaign to break Rutgers 29-year NCAA tournament drought just barely got off on the right foot. Hobbs and head coach, Steve Pikeill, managed avoid a disastrous start to the season. If Grant’s shot went in, it would have delivered the Knights’ first opening night loss since 2014.
“We had to get a stop at the end and we did,” Pikiell said. “I like grinds, the whole season is a grind and that’s college basketball at its best . . . we haven’t played in 249 days and it showed today, but we’ll get better.”
If Rutgers does get better, this season could be one that vindicates Hobbs’ vision. It could keep him in the driver’s seat of the department as the University endures a looming leadership transition. In the background, President Robert Barchi is set to resign after the school year. Hobbs currently runs his department under unique financial circumstances in the Big Ten. According to a report by College Sports Solutions, Rutgers Athletics operates at the lowest budget. Subsequently, it runs the highest deficit of any school in the conference. The deficient revenue can be attributed to the program’s lack of success in men’s basketball and football. A winning season in Big Ten men’s basketball can do a lot for program revenue. Hobbs will need it if he hopes to manifest his vision for making Rutgers a legitimized Big Ten contender.
Hobbs originally got the Rutgers job based on his work with Seton Hall’s men’s basketball program. He has a record of proven success at the administrative level of the sport. This year’s team will be the highest profile team Hobbs has ever put together. Can Pikiell and the Knights make the Rutgers Athletic Center a beacon of hope this winter? They will continue their high-stakes campaign at home again on Sunday against Niagara.
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