It was a move that seemed like a bizarre choice at the time.
Rutgers? In the Big Ten?
New Jersey is a long way from the heart of Big Ten country, both physically and culturally. Also, not to put too fine of a point on this: Rutgers’ athletic department is terrible at virtually everything.
I don’t want this to come off as mocking. I’m a New Jersey native and have relatives who not only graduated from Rutgers, but who actually pay real, actual American currency to attend their athletic events from time to time.
This isn’t a roast, it’s an intervention.
Adding Rutgers to the Big Ten was the functional equivalent of the sub-prime housing crisis. Jim Delany looked at the school with a credit rating of 503 and thought, “let’s move them into our gated community!”
Shockingly, a little over five years after the new neighbors moved in, they’re way underwater.
In this case, you can take that figuratively (they might legitimately have the worst football team in Big Ten history right now). But you can also take it literally.
A 2018 report from Rutgers revealed that the school was taking advances on its distributions from the conference (page 14).
The Scarlet Knights are already dipping into their 2021 to 2026 distributions just to get to this point.
They now won’t get a full distribution from the Big Ten until 2027. And that assumes they don’t hit up the Payday Lending Conference for another bridge loan before then.
Incredibly, the Knights have looked worse on the field than they have on the balance sheet.
The football team hasn’t just lost, they’ve just gotten dragged up and down the field by basically the entire conference for five straight years now.
Since joining the league, Rutgers has lost Big Ten games by scores of 37-0, 58-0, 78-0, 49-0, 39-0, 56-0, 41-0, 30-0, 52-0, and 35-0.
Those aren’t just against Ohio State and Michigan, either. Indiana has wins of 35-0 and 41-0 against them in the last three years.
Rutgers scored a first-quarter touchdown against Ohio State in the schools’ first-ever meeting in 2014. The Buckeyes built a 49-7 lead that day en route to a 56-17 win.
It was 49-0 in 2015 until Rutgers scored the garbage-time touchdown to end all garbage-time touchdowns to cut it to 49-7 with 0:13 left in the game.
The 2016 game ended 58-0, but only because Ohio State emptied their bench in the third quarter.
In 2017, the game ended 56-0, but only because Rutgers doinked the saddest possible field goal attempt in the final minute of the game.
The 2018 game was 42-0 Buckeyes before the Knights scraped together a field goal drive against Ohio State’s backups.
Add it all together and Ohio State has jumped out to a combined lead of 254-7 on Rutgers since the Knights joined the conference.
The point spread this week has the Buckeyes favored by more than 50 points. And it will only be that close if OSU calls off the dogs very early.
The team generally considered the worst in Big Ten conference history, the 1981 Northwestern Wildcats, was only a 40-point underdog against OSU. This might legitimately be the least-competitive Big Ten team ever.
This weekend’s score will be Whatever Ryan Day Wants It To Be – 0. Rutgers doesn’t really have a say in the matter.
It’s not a surprise to see the Buckeyes treating RU like the functional equivalent of a lousy MAC team. That’s what they’ve been.
The 2014 Rutgers team finished 8-5, but was 75th in S&P+, behind Toledo, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan. And that was by far and away the best team the Knights have fielded since joining the league.
The 2017 team soared all the way up to 92nd in S&P+, behind only five MAC teams! They plunged back below the triple-digit threshold again in 2018, finishing 108th behind all but four teams from the MAC.
This year’s team is currently 107th, behind such national powers as Charlotte and Buffalo.
The return of Greg Schiano is viewed as close to a sure thing by many around the school, but there are a lot of reasons to think it won’t work this time. For one, Schiano is 53 years old, not the 35-year-old up-and-comer he was the first time he got hired.
The game-changing demand he has supposedly made is for Rutgers to build an indoor facility. Some MAC schools have those already. Heck, there are high school teams in Ohio with indoor practice fields.
Also, Schiano was a flaming plane wreck in his last two positions. His stint as the Tampa Bay Bucs’ head coach ended in disaster, and you’re probably familiar with his tenure as the defensive coordinator for the 2018 Buckeyes.
A New Jersey newspaper columnist recently wrote a story envisioning a world where Schiano never left Rutgers in the first place. The pinnacle of their time in the Big Ten in this magical dream was… an Outback Bowl championship.
That’s probably about their best-case scenario if absolutely everything breaks just right.
The best team from Schiano’s first stint, viewed as one of the best in Rutgers history, was the 11-2 squad from 2006. But it was basically just a function of a once-in-a-lifetime season coupled with a generally lousy Big East. That team only finished 23rd in S&P+, behind teams from the Mountain West and WAC and three spots ahead of their 6-6 conference mate, Pitt.
Now that the program has plunged to depths so deep that it can’t even see “merely bad” with a periscope, it isn’t entertaining.
At this point, playing Rutgers is just an enormous waste of everyone’s time; an SEC/SoCon Challenge weekend game dumped unceremoniously in the middle of Big Ten conference play.
Jim Delany is going to step down as league commissioner later this year, and receive all sorts of praise for how he modernized the league and added the Big Ten Network.
But the millstone of Rutgers is part of that legacy, too. Now, the conference he was in charge of is saddled with the Knights for the foreseeable future. Normally, you have to anger a Gypsy woman to suffer a curse this awful and long-lasting.
So the Buckeyes will dutifully get on a plane, fly to New Jersey, and play an opponent that might be an underdog to Ohio State’s scout team. They’ll do it in front of a stadium that might be half-full if enough Buckeye fans make the trip.
And then in two years, they’ll get to do it again.
And then two years after that. And then two years after that.
It’s not just a football thing, either. Rutgers is somewhere between mediocre and putrid in nearly every Big Ten sport they play.
The women’s basketball team has historically been the crown jewel of the athletic department. They won 22 games last season and then, appropriately for the football comparisons above, lost to a MAC team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
They have won one NCAA Tournament game in the five seasons they have been a member of the Big Ten.
The women’s soccer team continues to be very good with an 8-2-1 record in conference games this season.
The men’s golf team finished sixth in the 2019 Big Ten Championships.
The women’s rowing team finished 4th out of eight teams at the Big Ten Championships.
Field hockey is currently 4-4 in conference play.
And then things start to get a little bleak.
The wrestling team finished tied for 8th at the Big Ten Championships.
Men’s lacrosse finished 7-8 overall and 2-3 in the Big Ten and then lost 18-6 at home in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
The baseball team went 9-14 in Big Ten play, 10th in the league.
The men’s basketball team went 7-13 in the conference, putting them 12th out of 14 teams in the league.
The men’s cross country team was dead last in this year’s Big Ten Championships.
The men’s soccer team is 1-6-1 in Big Ten play this fall.
The men’s track team finished 11th out of 13 teams in the Big Ten Track & Field Championships. The women’s team was 12th out of 13.
Women’s golf finished dead last at the Big Ten Championships.
They were dead last at the Big Ten women’s gymnastics championships, too.
The women’s lacrosse team went 0-6 in Big Ten play.
The women’s cross country team finished 14th out of 14 teams at the Big Ten Championships this fall.
The women’s swimming and diving team was 11th out of 13 teams at the Big Ten Championships.
The women’s tennis team finished 13th out of 14 teams in the conference and didn’t even qualify for the Big Ten Championships.
The women’s volleyball team is currently 2-12 in Big Ten play.
The softball team finished with a losing conference record and got knocked out in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Oh, and its coach was accused of physically and emotionally abusing players. And when asked for comment, the school’s athletic director called a reporter and said “You guys are f—— scum. Why should I help you people?”
Rutgers athletics: As charming as they are successful.
That’s 22 varsity sports. Two are above .500.
Rutgers is in 10th place or below in 14. Two-thirds of their teams are absolutely noncompetitive.
This isn’t just a one-season blip, either. Here’s a look at where things stood for the Knights in all of these sports about 18 months ago.
This isn’t working. Rutgers is not a Big Ten-caliber athletic department. And remember, the earliest they can possibly draw a full share of conference revenue is still eight years away.
That means at this point, there is absolutely no indication that they will even get meaningfully closer to being a Big Ten-caliber athletic department for a decade or more.
Rutgers isn’t in the Big Ten because of academics or athletics. They’re here solely because of cable TV households.
It’s time for everyone to face up to reality, cut the cord, and send Rutgers to the AAC where they belong.