The Rutgers men's basketball program has more momentum than the Rutgers football program if you solely look at the last calendar year. Football had a bad season where everything went wrong. The men's basketball team finished with the same record as the year prior, but they were far more competitive. Their improvement is evident in every box score, and in all of the various statistical systems. They just ran into some bad breaks and had the misfortune of playing a murderer's row of a conference schedule. If this discussion is just about raw momentum, then they win hands down.
Of course, that ignores the fact that the men's basketball team is coming off its absolute nadir. Some kind of bounce back is inevitable when you have nowhere to go but up, even though this year's team far exceeded anyone's expectations. They have a good recruiting class coming in, which is mostly impressive considering how poisoned everything seemed a year ago. Basketball also has a few structural advantages in that they have smaller rosters, and New Jersey is an elite state for high school basketball. If you are solely looking at demographics and resources, the Rutgers football program naturally ought to be in the top 25 every year. The Rutgers men's basketball program ought to be in the top ten.
The difficulty with trying to compare the two programs is that it's hard to separate a program's historical success from any intrinsic properties. To be a sports fan is to be a bandwagoner. There are masochists that stick around through thick and thin, and both programs have seen their fanbases whittled down to that core base of support in recent memory. Most of everyone else will gravitate towards a winner. "Loyalty" in this sense is really just shorthand for "has built up a cache of good will through extended success." That being said, Rutgers definitely skews towards the football side. There is far more interest in football. The athletic department has always allocated more assets towards football. Heck, by initially turning down an invitation to the Big East when the conference was first forming, Rutgers willingly doomed its basketball program for the mere possibility of joining a better football conference.
Football and men's basketball are in a competition when it comes to resource allocation, and football-centric fans will not take kindly to anything seen as infringing on "our" turf. However, a rising tide lifts all boats in the athletic department clubhouse. A successful men's basketball program will be great for Rutgers football and vice versa.
To see Dave's response, follow the jump...
Basketball has more momentum right now, way more.
Mike Rice has come in and turned the eyes toward men's basketball again. First he did it with recruiting. The seven man class of Myles Mack, Jerome Seagears, Kadeem Jack (who's already redshirting), Greg Lewis, Derrick Randall, Malik Kone, and new man Eli Carter have the fans buzzing. Most loved the signings as Rice brought them in. Most looked eagerly toward 2011-2012 when the class was announced.
No one looked toward this year.
Except Mike Rice and the rest of the Rutgers basketball team. They all completely bought in and began the process of turning the program around. They fought and clawed and battled, and though they didn't come out on top as often as they would have liked, they gave the fans something to buzz about.
The gave Rutgers basketball a new identity. They laid the foundation.
Now the fans have expectations. They want to see this young class continue the process of building the program. They want to see exciting basketball.
And they will be able.
You see, I feel Big East basketball gets more exposure than Big East football. Basketball is on all the time and it's almost always competitive. There's Big Monday, there's Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Nearly every game is on. SNY has pre- and post games.
And Rutgers hoops gained a ton of exposure with the loss to St. John's this year in the ESPN aired Big East Tournament. A week of basketball on the world's largest sports network. Basketball is going to keep building.
Football is going through a restructuring. And with Big East football, it's hard to keep that exposure going. The games are often not as compelling, and with a shorter schedule, you only get one or two HUGE match-ups a year. In the basketball, you get one every night.
So, Rutgers basketball is in a good place. It has a chance to build on its momentum and keep going. They have a chance to get back in the spotlight, out of football's shadow.