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Rutgers Went Undefeated In Men’s Basketball And Football In 1976 And Nobody Cared

It’s not just because they’re not winning

In case you haven’t noticed, the theme of Rutgers week is “why do we have rutger week?” Clearly nobody is interested in this non-winning team.

The ‘Gers, however, is so good at deflecting interest that 47 years ago they pulled off one of the all time most impressive feats of nobody caring about their athletic accomplishments: they had an undefeated regular season in men’s basketball AND football in 1976.

Led by eventual head coach and Frank Kaminsky kryptonite Eddie Jordan, the 1975-76 ‘Gers roared through a schedule that included Purdue, UConn and other future conference rivals. I’m assuming they packed the 3200-seat College Avenue Gymnasium as they worked over a list of Northeastern basketball powers picked from a true independent schedule en route to a 70-67 victory over St. John’s in the ECAC Metro Tournament.

After edging out Princeton by a point, the Mighty ‘Gers cruised to the Final Four to complete an all-Big Ten field of Michigan, Rutgers, Indiana and UCLA. Unfortunately, they would be drubbed by Michigan to drop their record to 31-1, tacking on another loss to UCLA in the third place game.

In the fall, head coach Frank R. Burns led the newly independent ‘Gers through a schedule that similarly consisted of northeastern basketball powers (UConn, Princeton...uhhh...okay maybe not). Only Cornell and Lehigh managed to stay within a touchdown of this particular ‘Gers outfit as their 11-0 record earned them the #17 spot in the final AP poll.

It did not earn them a bowl invite. There were only 12 bowls, and there were several unranked 8-4 SEC teams. The ‘Gers would have to wait until 1978, when they kicked off their season with a 20-17 loss to #3 Penn State before winning each of the next nine games, inventing the “Garden State Bowl” that would take place in New Jersey, losing the home finale to Colgate, and then finally tasting that first bowl invite...from the Garden State lose to Arizona State.

Anyway, the twin epilogues of these seasons are as follows:

There’s no evidence that Rutgers Stadium ever sold out as a result of Burns’ early success, and he would never again guide them to a ranking in the AP Poll. The Garden Bowl would remain the only Rutgers bowl game until 2005. Burns was unceremoniously fired after finishing 3-8 for his third consecutive losing season. His record at the ‘Gers was 78-43-1 and he was the all time winningest head coach at Rutger until last year, when Greg Schiano defeated Temple on the road in his 14th season at the helm for his 79th win.

Burns never coached again and Rutger drifted aimlessly through the cosmos for a couple decades.

As for hoops, it’s unclear under what circumstances Tom Young left Piscataway after twelve years, four tournament appearances, four conference titles and three conference tournament championships, but he was the coach at Old Dominion for six years starting in 1985-6. His tenure there apparently ended after he and his team chased a Western Kentucky player into the locker room following a 77-74 loss. (When gets taken down it will be a dark day)

Anyway, enjoy your rutger week!