Rutgers Athletics Moving Towards Stability But Top Sports Teams Still Not Big Ten Quality
Last April, I wrote an article discussing how Rutgers in the Big Ten was an absolute disaster. This was coming off of the Scarlet Knights’ first season in the conference and a decent 8-5 season for the football team. However that 8-5 record featured a 3-5 record in the Big Ten. Men’s basketball finished 10-22 and 2-16 in Big Ten play which featured a 15-game losing streak to end the season.
For some of the bright spots that came from that inaugural season in the Big Ten, Year 2 was a disaster for the big money sports for the school.
The 2015 Rutgers football team finished 4-8 and went 1-7 in conference play. The season was marred by five players being dismissed from the team before the season opener against Norfolk State and the suspension of star receiver Leonte Carroo. Throw in a three game suspension for head coach Kyle Flood for improperly contacting a Rutgers professor to discuss the grade of a player and you had a disastrous season for Scarlet Knight football. But for as bad Rutgers football was, Rutgers basketball was even worse.
7-25 and 1-17 records in Big Ten play was what Scarlet Knight basketball gave to their supporters. Head coach Eddie Jordan looked overwhelmed the entire season as his team was just downright dreadful this season. To say there were flashes would mean me telling a lie as there was almost nothing positive to say about this basketball season. They defeated Minnesota in the regular season finale at home and it was like they won the National Championship. Now these two sports had bad seasons. Were they Boston College bad, a team that went winless in ACC play in both men’s basketball and football? No but it was really close.
The athletic program has made strides to move into the right direction with the hiring of new athletic director Pat Hobbs. The hiring of former athletic director Julie Herrmann was not a good hire and she essentially did nothing during her time with the program. With a move to the Big Ten and increased competition, she was pretty non-existent during her time with Rutgers in regards to improving the school’s standing in the nation. But hey, she left with a pretty good golden parachute after being fired.
Hobbs’ first hire as AD of Rutgers was Chris Ash as the school’s new football coach, the former co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State. The hire was lauded as Rutgers going for a young coach who had experience with a major program. For Ash’s part, he seems as if he is ready for the undertaking but he has no idea what he’s in store. In order to rebuild the program, he has to keep New Jersey talent in state, something that hasn’t happened in years.
Men’s basketball is also going through a transition as Rutgers fired Eddie Jordan. Jordan was hired as a stopgap between the Mike Rice issues and as a member of the greatest Rutgers team in history (1976 Final Four), Jordan was the obvious selection. But if his NBA coaching career was any indication (257-343 in nine season), Jordan was not going to be a successful coach at his alma mater and 29-67 is not good enough for a program in a Power 5 conference. Finding a new head coach was to be difficult as homegrown product Dan Hurley turned down the job to stay at Rhode Island which is bad when someone wants to stay in Rhode Island and coach there.
Last month Rutgers hired Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell has their new coach. Pikiell took a horrible Stony Brook basketball program and led them to the NCAA Tournament this past season for the time in school history. It’s wasn’t a big name but it’s a bit of stability which the program needed.
I am only discussing men’s basketball and football as those are the main money making sports in college athletics. Women’s basketball made the Women NIT and are perennially a Top 25 team. Men’s lacrosse are nationally ranked so there are other sports thriving at Rutgers but in the case of the two big sports, the question still remains: Should Rutgers be a member of the Big Ten conference?
The Big East football conference is dead but before the Scarlet Knights moved to the Big Ten, they were a member of the American Athletic Conference. The AAC is mish-mash conference featuring teams from Connecticut to Texas. It’s not a prestigious conference by any means but it features teams like Houston, who finished the season 13-1, and Navy who had the best season in school history. It’s a conference that seems to be a middle of the road conference, a conference that seems to on an upturn. A conference that needs a team…like Rutgers.
Rutgers is not ready for the Big Ten. If you look at the big picture, the facilities don’t match up with those of Ohio State, Michigan or even Northwestern. The long-awaited renovation of The RAC is still in the development stages as the arena received a new scoreboard but still has no air conditioning. The big time programs in the conference are receiving the best recruits in the country and while New Jersey is a breeding ground for athletes, Rutgers football ranked 64th according to ESPN in their recruiting class, a distant 13th out of 14 teams in the Big Ten.
I am not saying things cannot get better for Rutgers with a new head coach in both men’s basketball and football. You have an AD who is committed to making Rutgers a destination for players, coaches and fans along with a strong, loyal fan base looking for a winner. But Rutgers will continue to get trounced in the Big Ten because they are not a Big Ten team. I know it’s tough to realize but it’s fact. I’m hoping they prove me wrong because a good Rutgers athletic program is something the state has wanted since the days of Greg Schiano and his run through Big East football.
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