Does Rutgers matter in South Jersey?

Here's Ben Doody (formerly of The Trentonian) on Friday:

It's also no secret that Huskymania is a condition far more often experienced in the central and eastern parts of the state than it is in Stamford and Greenwich. Even within Fairfield County, folks dressed in national flag blue and white are more often found in Danbury -- where Interstate 84 provides easy access to Hartford and Storrs -- than in Greenwich.

Even in New Jersey, where the Rutgers football team has risen to prominence over the last five years, there's a far bigger divide between the New York-centric fans in North Jersey and those in the Philadelphia suburbs, for whom Rutgers' Piscataway campus seems a lifetime away.

Connecticut, like New Jersey, is split between two major media markets. A long-standing stereotype is that southwest Connecticut, the wealthier part of the state dominated by New York City, generally is not as fond of UConn sports as the rest of the state. UConn's base of support comes more from blue-collar northern and eastern Connecticut, which are also more representative of Connecticut as a whole.

Are Rutgers sports not as popular in parts of New Jersey dominated by the Philadelphia media market as they are in the rest of the state? Anecdotally that seems to be the case. The Northeast only pays limited attention to college sports to begin with. Rutgers can at least find occasional table scraps with the New York City media, but gets even less interest from Philadelphia, which in turn influences public opinion in South Jersey. Which is not to say that there are not healthy bases of support for Rutgers in down there. In fact, in my experience Rutgers as a university has far less of a negative stigma in that market. It's almost like stepping into the Midwest, where everyone seems to think of the school as a small private university (as opposed to the muddled, so-byzantine-alumni-can-barely-explain-it truth.)

In talking with Ben about his article, he thought that Fairfield County cared more about UConn than Cherry Hill about Rutgers. If any readers had a Facebook account before it was inundated with white noise and decoupled account registration from college enrollment, you may remember that there were a wealth of network-wide statistics available to users (or perhaps that's still around, and merely buried under layers of impenetrable design.) At the time visitors could look up information about popular profile terms in various networks (so far instance, what were the most popular books, or hometowns, or other categories.) Edison and East Brunswick of course lead the list, but, IIRC, Cherry Hill was in third place; even outpacing the distinct pair of New York City and Brooklyn.

So did Ben really mean to say that UConn is bigger in Greenwich than Rutgers is in Cherry Hill, or was he just using "Cherry Hill" as shorthand for "populated, fairly representative South Jersey municipality"? I certainly could have asked him for further clarification, but that would have been annoying. Plus, this exchange also provided a spur here for further discussion unrelated to spring football practice. To someone living in Middlesex County, Bergen for instance might as well be light years away, with the Middlesex resident able to recite a long litany of differences at a moment's notice. An outsider would not notice much variation though, instead focusing on the broader picture of demographic similarity.

In that sense Bergen isn't that far off from Camden County, or any number of locales along the eastern seaboard. The Middlesex resident probably knows little of the difference between Atlantic City and Vineland, but wouldn't have much trouble observing how closely the Raritan Valley follows Rutgers sports. Travel about 10 miles (draw a big circle from Perth Amboy to Hillsborough, Scotch Plains to Monroe) from campus in any direction, and it won't be long before you start losing count of all the Block R stickers and magnets. I'd be curious to see what South Jersey readers would have to say though. Do your neighbors follow Rutgers teams? Are you guys better fans than the stereotypical Greenwich hedge fund manager?

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