Making future Rutgers football schedules work

The media seems convinced that Rutgers is about to announce a home and home series with Arkansas, which does render the idea that Rutgers refused to play Oklahoma in Norman rather silly. (More likely is that Oklahoma only needed a BCS conference opponent if West Virginia didn't join the Big XII.) That is great news for those who want to see Rutgers play a tough schedule, although the effect is somewhat muted given WVU's departure, and whether or not there will be any marquee home games in 2012 remains an open question. At least RU doesn't have it as bad as Pitt. Unfortunately, this is a yearly reality when power conference programs want eight home games a year.

What are the options then? Tom Luicci floated the idea of playing Syracuse twice, with the second game at Yankee Stadium. Considering the source, that idea probably came out of Piscataway. Orange athletic director Daryl Gross quickly shot the proposal down, as there is little reason for them to surrender a home game to Rutgers. Alternatively, Arkansas already has seven home games scheduled for 2012. In a perfect world, they would be the ones coming to Piscataway in 2012, with Rutgers returning the favor the following year. However, Arkansas has quite a bit more leverage in this process, and that would just be kicking the problem a year down the road.

Rutgers already has three OOC home games and one OOC road game scheduled for the next two seasons (three, actually.) It's really difficult to find out of conference games on short notice. Tim Pernetti did very well in scheduling Miami, Penn State, and UCLA for down the road, but for the near future, Rutgers still has a hole to dig out from under. The stadium expansion funding model depends on seven home games, but perhaps with Greg Schiano's buyout in hand, Rutgers can afford to only play six this year. That has the added bonus of giving weary season ticket holders a break. If spending money is an option, what about buying out of the Tulane series or Fresno State road games? It would be better than loading up on the Patriot League.

The alternative involves quite a bit of mental gymnastics. If Arkansas was feeling charitable and wanted to play at Rutgers this year, and Fayetteville in 2012, Rutgers at minimum would need to find one more home game next fall. That is assuming that the Big East holds steady at seven members, which is far from a given. Syracuse and Pittsburgh may have been content to stay until 2013, but that was before WVU's buyout. On the other hand, all of the new members except Navy could conceivably join in a year. Strangely enough, Navy is the only new member that currently is not a member of a conference, but has to honor its existing television commitments.

Tom Luicci has outlined the one scenario that could make everything work for Rutgers, but it involves getting a break from a conference that has always had it out for the Scarlet Knights. West Virginia was scheduled to play four Big East home games in 2012. In this scenario, not only does Boise (or another team like Memphis or Villanova-blocked Temple) join a year early, but also willingly surrender a conference game, and to Rutgers over Syracuse, Cincinnati, and South Florida. Oh, and the Big East has to get into a position where teams can play eight conference games in 2013 no less. Then, and only then, will Rutgers be okay. Until 2015, when Rutgers is seemingly locked into playing six road games (assuming an eight game conference schedule, which is not necessarily a given.)

Getting everything to work seems daunting, but it is not without precedent. Back in 2005, the Big East essentially transferred a home game from West Virginia to Syracuse to bail the Orange out of a scheduling jam, forcing Rutgers to play in Syracuse and West Virginia in Piscataway for a second year in a row. Between that, and Syracuse leaving and all, you can bet that the conference won't do them any favors. If there is an extra home game to give, why would the Big East give it to Rutgers? If there is a case, it's because Rutgers is an early favorite along with Louisville to be a preseason favorite, and Rutgers/Boise at a packed stadium in Piscataway could be a marquee television matchup for ESPN.

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