It doesn't matter whether or not you believe it. Rutgers will be the next great football dynasty.
Between a top-10 recruiting base, a lack of any meaningful in-state competition, a powerhouse conference, the biggest media market in the country, and a rabid, growing fanbase, Rutgers is poised to join the upper echelon of college football dynasties in the 2020s.
This has caused a fair share of angst throughout the Midwest. As Rutgers rises and traditional power programs fall (looking at you Nebraska), the football world has experienced some pretty serious cognitive dissonance. This can't be right they say. So hands are wrung, excuses are made, and facts are swept aside.
Often, with hilarious results:
Whether Rutgers' colleagues in the Midwest believe in this or not is quite frankly irrelevant. Rutgers don't need writers in Iowa City to believe in the viability of the program. It doesn't need sportscasters in Detroit to admit an upward trajectory. It doesn't need fans in Lincoln to admit an unfair advantage.
Rutgers has everything it needs to become the next big thing in college football and quite frankly, there's nothing you can do about it.
This shouldn't come as news to most of you. We talk about it fairly frequently on Off Tackle Empire and On the Banks. However, apparently this is news to one of our writers here at OTE. Let's talk about a few interesting points - perhaps we should call them fallacies - and get down to the bedrock of our argument as to why Rutgers is going to be so good after so many years of being a mid-major college football program.
Fallacy #1: Rutgers is a State College
Recently, during OTE's outstanding Rutgers' week, much of the talk concerned "the Sleeping Giant" that is the State College of New Jersey.
Rutgers is the State University of New Jersey. The State College of New Jersey is The College of New Jersey, located in Ewing.
Let's just get that out of the way before we dig deeper.
Fallacy #2: There is No Such Thing as a Rutgers Fan
Rutgers, on the other hand, does not have such fans. As I've already mentioned, most people I've known through 43 years have been New Jerseyans and New Yorkers, and not one of them has been raised a fan of Rutgers.
Well, that settles it then doesn't it?
While the author spins a good yarn about moving around the country and knowing people, or something, it's hardly a compelling notion outside of a story that your tipsy neighbor would tell you at a barbeque.
Let's look at the numbers. Perhaps a look at the largest market in the country for college football, as measured by the brilliant Nate Silver for the New York Times:
Bottom line: there is such thing as a Rutgers fan. By this estimate there are 600,000 Rutgers fans in New York city alone and around a million of them around the country, mostly in New Jersey.
The best part? These are fans who stuck around since the golden years in the 60's and 70's, who survived the dark days of the 80's and 90's, or who got swept up in the Pandemonium in Piscataway era. Very few of these fans know the Rutgers that we do today. The Rutgers that plays Michigan and Ohio State every year in place of UConn and Syracuse. The Rutgers that goes toe to toe with Nebraska and Michigan State in place of Lehigh and Lafayette.
This number will grow over the years and surely has since this article was published prior to Rutgers joining the oldest, most prestigious college athletic conference in the land.
Fallacy #3: Native New Yorkers and New Jerseyans Don't Take College Football Seriously
As I mentioned, New Yorkers and New Jerseyans are rabid fans of football. I know and have known plenty of New Jerseyans and New Yorkers who are fans of the Giants, the Jets, the Eagles, and even the Cowboys. And their fandom, like any true fan, is maniacal, obsessive, religious and even weird.
But there are limitations to their following of any college football team because they don't take college football seriously.
As per the above Nate Silver article, the author is just flat out wrong. New York is the largest market in the country for college football.
To say that fans in the New York City market (which includes New Jersey) don't take college football seriously is just plain false.
That said, the author brings up a great point - that fans are quasi-religiously raised to cheer for their team. For generations of NJ football fans raised in the 80s and 90s, there was no Rutgers football. It was unspeakably bad. Today, fans bring their kids to Rutgers games with hordes of their friends. Rutgers gear is everywhere. Silver's numbers are based on a generation of apathy towards NJ College Football. What do you think is going to happen now that Rutgers has reached the shores of the Big Ten and true big time college football?
We can refer to the Nate Silver report to confirm that there is a lot going on outside of college football in the New Jersey/New York area. It's a fact. There are a lot of sports teams, media events, and goings on to distract people from Rutgers football. Counter to that is Iowa, where on a given saturday it's either watch the Hawkeyes or go till the field...again.
However, to say that rabid Rutgers fandom doesn't exist is to ignore those who do follow the team. Compare the Rutgers gameday atmosphere to one of the polite football temples of the midwest. You think rowdy New Jerseyans don't bring higher per-capita fire than the pios attendees of Michigan football games? You all love to refer to Jersey folk as rude, obnoxious, loud and arrogant. You don't think that translates into a greater per-person energy than the somber followers of Ohio State intercollegiate athletics?
Come to a game. Feel the passion. Do we have as many fans at this moment in time? No, we don't. That's fact. Are we on the upswing? Yes. And when we get there, you will understand that not only do New Jerseyans and New Yorkers take college football seriously, but they are in fact THE MOST passionate fans in the Big Ten.
Think about it. These are people who packed the house last year despite the embarrassing state of Rutgers football. Despite the horrific, doormat status of the 80s and 90s. Despite the corruption and mismanagement of the 60s and 70s.
You think New Jerseyans aren't passionate about football? Are you kidding? We host two of the most successful pro teams in the country and half our state roots for the one right across the border. That's the Giants, Jets and Eagles, if you weren't following. If you haven't heard, those teams also have a reputation for rowdy, passionate fans who sell out the stadium year after year.
What's the difference? History. The Giants have been NFL monsters for years. The Jets have been a fun show since Namath. The Eagles boast NFL championships stretching back to the 30s. These teams have a history of winning that Rutgers lacks. When the wins come - and they will - the history and the critical mass will follow.
Fallacy #4: The Nature of a New Jerseyan is that He Wants to Leave New Jersey
Consider New Jersey's favorite son, Bruce Springsteen. Every single song he wrote in the early part of his career, when he was still fully immersed in New Jersey, was about getting out.
While lyrics from great songs about 1970's Asbury Park make for another great story you could tell your drunk neighbor, they are hardly fact. Let's look at a few statistics:
- #1 for Child Well-Being
- #1 Safest State
- #2 Household Income
- #2 Per-Student Spending
- #3 Per Capita Income
- #4 Percent Population Under Poverty Line
- #4 and #5 Youth Math & Reading Scores
- 13th and 60th Ranked Schools in the World
Yeah, Bruce sings great songs about living a tough life. People in NJ, like any place, live tough lives. That's the stuff that makes great songs. It sure doesn't quantify an all-encompassing experience of living here though.
It is true, of course, that Bruce Springsteen (and Jon Bon Jovi) moved back to New Jersey. But Bruce is living in a palace in Rumson in which he's fairly sheltered from New Jersey.
So, we've covered the statistics, but because the author loves stories, let's tell one about The Boss. Yeah, he's got a sweet pad in Rumson. But do you know what he does on the weekends? He hangs out in Asbury Park and listens to live music. He helps aspiring artists cut new records.
A colleague of mine was playing a show last weekend and this dude comes in, orders a beer, sits down and starts nodding along. Yeah, it was The Boss. They talked music afterwards and nobody mobbed him or thought it was a big deal because the guy is there every weekend.
Bruce has enough money to live anywhere on Earth, same with Bon Jovi. Why do these guys keep coming back? Because Jersey is a truly great place to live.
Fallacy #5: Adding Rutgers Was a Cash Grab
Everybody, including Rutgers...uh..."fans" knows that adding RU to the B1G was a cash grab, plain and simple, and it is a cash grab that worked as detailed by Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton. Every fully vested B1G athletic program is and will continue to receive substantial television revenues that will support bigger and more bloated budgets. Each one of those athletic programs can thank Rutgers (as well as Maryland).
When will you learn not to doubt Jim Delaney? Was he right about the Big Ten Network? Was he right about expansion? Was he right about the playoff?
Delaney and the power players in the Big Ten always had Rutgers at the top of their list, because it's the only institution out there that had everything. Academics? Check. Athletic potential? Check. Recruiting? Check. Media market? Check. Fans? Check.
If you wanted a media market, why didn't you go grab NYU or Fordham? Monmouth brings in plenty of TV sets, as does Army and Navy. Hey, UConn is right around the corner. Why didn't the Big Ten add these schools, or others? Because it wasn't the best fit.
Rutgers was the crown jewel of conference expansion.
No other school combined the desirable traits that conferences wanted to the same degree. No other school has the potential and no other school would be as excited to join the Big Ten. It's the perfect acquisition and one that will pay dividends to both parties for decades.
No, schools like Northwestern are not sleeping giants, because they have dozens of great football programs within close proximity, competing for the same recruits. There's a reason many of those programs will never move beyond what they are (plucky underdogs with great years here and there).
Rutgers is poised to become the LSU of the Northeast. The only Power 5 program in a recruiting hotbed. Just look at what's happening this year, with a competent head coach and athletic director at the helm. The early #15-rated recruiting class in the nation, projected to land in the top-25 by singing day.
Anecdotally (because we love stories round these parts), Rutgers and the Big Ten have been working on adding the school for over 20 years. The power players within the conference always knew that Rutgers would join sooner or later. The only question was when, how and with who? How do I know this? Because my old boss sat on the committee overseeing the Rutgers side of things.
Sure, it's just a story, but I think it's as good a story as the original author's meandering bullshit about moving trucks or whatever.
Obviously, none of this involves scientific experiments and surveys. I have no numbers to back up my argument. It is strictly because I know my people.
Cool story bro.
You're damn right that you don't have numbers to back up your argument. You have nothing but a few stories that you can share over a beer. I'll take metrics over memories any day of the week. Any metrics you examine will point to an ascendant Rutgers football program; an ascendant Rutgers athletic and academic program at large. We haven't even looked at wins over time, quality of opponent over time, recruiting rankings over time or what a full-share revenue haul from the Big Ten looks like.
The bottom line here is that Rutgers football doesn't need you to believe in them to become a dynasty. They already have hundreds of thousands of fans here in New Jersey, across the river in New York, and around the world who believe in them. The angst from the rust belt is just white noise.
They only need you to lose.
And lose you will.
The sleeping giant stirs...