Looking ahead to the 2009 football schedule, it appears difficult, if not impossible, to both play seven home games, and addanother quality (or at least not a FBS team) opponent to the schedule. There is one possibility that I think is being overlooked however. Let's take a look at NCAA Bylaw 220.127.116.11 (k):
The maximum number of football contests shall exclude the following:
(k) Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico. [ FBS/FCS] Any football games played in Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico, respectively, either against or under the sponsorship of an active member institution located in Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico, by a Division I member institution located outside the area in question
Hawaii already has thirteen games scheduled this year (as is their right under rule 17.31.2). However, take a look at the teams that are coming to Hawaii this year: Navy, Wisconsin, Utah State, Fresno State, New Mexico State, and Boise State. Now, Boise and Navy have already scheduled thirteen games, and scratch Fresno, but NM State and Utah State are hypothetically options (I'd imagine that they wouldn't be too keen on flying across the country).
Wisconsin, however, is the intriguing option here. We know that there were unverified rumors about scheduling a game last year (which apparently fell apart because both teams wanted to be at home in 2008). We also know that while the Badgers were great at recruiting New Jersey under Barry Alvarez, they have completely abandoned it in recent years under Bret Bielema (losing assistants like Brian White, Bernie Wyatt, and John Palermo didn't help). That's a major reason why Wisconsin could be interested in playing Rutgers, and it's a fact that Bret Bielema has publicly lamented.
Playing Wisconsin is a two-way street. Rutgers could very well lose, and it gives Badgers a chance to get back involved in New Jersey. That's a risk you have to take to line up a credible opponent. The bigger reason why a series with Wisconsin may not happen is that they may not be inclined to play on the road.
University of Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema was in favor of a proposed non-conference matchup against Texas next season.
But the two sides were unable to reach an agreement, not because of a problem with a return game, as previously reported.
Bielema said the deal-breaking issue was neither team was willing to lose a home game for next season.
ESPN attempted to broker the matchup and Bielema said he talked to the network three or four weeks ago.
The Austin American Statesman reported the game fell through because the teams couldn't agree on a return game in Madison until 2013.
But Bielema said both teams needed seven home games for next season and to make the matchup happen, one team would have had to lose a home game. The UW Athletic Department has stipulated the football team play seven home games for budgetary reasons.
Bielema said he proposed playing the game in Madison next season, but Texas officials declined because they also wanted seven home games.
Since the Badgers are playing at Hawaii, they are eligible to play 13 regular-season games next season, although they have elected not to do so.
Wisconsin is a no-go. The more important point is this: the Rutgers athletic department is currently stuck between a rock and a hard place. Having a marquee opponent to sell tickets in the expanded Rutgers Stadium would be nice. No one wants to join Duke, Mississippi State, UNC, and NC State of having the black marks of shame of scheduling two I-AA teams in 2009. You can either somehow find the money to buy a game against a MAC or Sun Belt team, or hope that a game falls into our laps again.
I'm not necessarily against playing on the road. You'd be surprised by how many "big name" teams are doing it this year, as mid-majors are increasingly in the position to demand more home games. (Of course, BCS conference schools SHOULD have the courage to schedule each other instead...)
The problem with doing that is that the money may not work. The guarantee has to be bigger than any anticipated home gate from the expanded stadium. I would much, much prefer to play on the road this year if it meant a return home game against a marquee opponent, but the budget may dictate seven home games. Nevermind our struggles in finding teams actually willing to visit Rutgers Stadium.
If the FIU deal taught us one thing, it's that these contracts aren't set in stone. Something completely unanticipated may just come out of the blue. If ESPN gets us out of this jam, I will never criticize their blatant rent-seeking ever again.