Last summer, Rutgers University athletics faced the ignominy of finishing with the lowest Director's Cup ranking of any BCS conference program that plays football. The only consolation was that Seton Hall fared even worse. In Piscataway, football was down, basketball was down, and even normally strong programs like track & field and women's soccer struggled. Only the bright spots of wrestling and women's basketball (neither basketball nor football is considered an "olympic" sport the way the term is used here) saved the athletic department from a total shutout. For 2011-2012, football is back on its feet (they'll earn points merely by bowling), wrestling comes into the season with plenty of hype, and women's hoops is on its way back after years of attrition.
Tim Pernetti has been making waves in his two and a half years as Rutgers athletic director. Bob Mulcahy kicked off the era of change by hiring Scott Goodale to turn around the wrestling program. Pernetti has subsequently brought in Mike Rice Jr. for men's basketball, Dan Donigan for men's soccer, Brian Brecht for men's lacrosse, and most recently announced plans to hire a new field hockey coach. Those were the high profile hires (with persistent lingering rumors about Fred Hill Sr. as the baseball coach as he advances in age), but Pernetti has also replaced the coaches for women's gymnastics and women's swimming. The latter two, along with field hockey, are really telling. This isn't just about grabbing the spotlight. Tim Pernetti is not content with losing; not in a state that dominates in most sports at the prep level.The early results on Rice look promising, but the jury is ultimately still out until next season, with a young roster still trying to find its legs. Pernetti can point towards his success in fully funding the wrestling program, but Goodale has been on campus for several years now. If there's one thing that Tim can hang his hat on this fall, it's in Dan Donigan's quick turnaround with soccer. Chris Reasso's once-proud program fell on hard times near the end of his tenure, and 2010's transition year was the worst in some time. Behind young stars like J.P. Correa, the Scarlet Knights bounced back to 11-6-3 this fall, with the third-best conference record in Big East conference play. Not bad for a team picked to finish sixth in its division, much less the entire league.
More importantly, Rutgers beat Colgate and Boston College over the past few days to advance to a Sweet 16 game against UCLA. At the same time, Dan Donigan's former program in Saint Louis is struggling. Jim Stagnitta's "breakout" season with lacrosse is proof positive that no coach should be declared a savior over night, but you have to like the nice little run that RU soccer has been on of late. Sure, the team loses weekend star Ibrahim Kamara next season, but this year's freshmen will be a year older, and more good players are coming in. Soccer and football alone should be enough to propel Rutgers far higher in the overall rankings. A long tournament run by women's basketball, or wrestling finally breaking through can only help matters, if only to serve as a momentary distraction away from football.