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Who should Rutgers football play out of conference?

Laying out some principles for future OOC scheduling

Joe Robbins

Among the many effects of the move to the Big Ten on the Rutgers football program will be on future out of conference scheduling, as Rutgers already had series planned with Penn State and Maryland. Taking them off the schedule produces the following out of conference lineup:

Arkansas, Eastern Michigan, at Fresno State, Norfolk State in 2013.
Howard, at Navy, Tulane in 2014.
At Army (Yankee Stadium), Kansas, Norfolk State in 2015.
Howard, UCLA in 2016.
Morgan State, at UCLA in 2017.
At Kansas, Miami in 2018.
At Miami in 2019.

For starters, losing Penn State and Maryland takes a big chunk out of the best scheduled OOC games for the upcoming few seasons, although they will both appear in conference among other Big Ten teams starting (presumably) in 2014. The following questions remain unanswered though:

  • What happens to the 2013 Big East schedule? Syracuse and Pitt are leaving. For now a bunch of C-USA and MWC teams are scheduled to come in, but that could change in a hurry if the Big East loses any more teams. Based on 2012, Rutgers can expect USF, Cincinnati, and Temple to come to Piscataway, with road trips to Louisville and UConn (Temple is placed in the West division, but one can speculate that they would be paired with Rutgers or UConn.) UCF is the other East division team.
  • Assuming nothing else changes (at least for 2013), which may not be warranted, it's probably a fair assumption that the Big East won't be inclined to do Rutgers any favors, like have Boise State come to town. Quite the opposite actually. If Rutgers plays Temple, the best parting shot that the league could offer would be UCF at home, with road trips to Boise and San Diego. This is all just (not particularly) educated guesswork however. Oh well, at least there's always Arkansas.
  • The Temple series was originally scheduled for 2015-2018 before they joined the Big East. Is there any chance of reviving that?
  • This does however fix the Navy problem in 2014, assuming that game is still on.
  • Another big outstanding question concerns whether the Big Ten will play eight or nine conference games post expansion. Nine could mean a bad OOC slate and more criticism of the team's strength of schedule, depending on the in-conference draws. Regardless, RU definitely needs games from 2016 onwards.
That being said, the following are probably could candidates for future scheduling:
  1. Generally speaking, you always want to face peer schools or aspire upwards against traditional powers. All things being equal, there isn't much of a reason for programs to expose themselves to criticism to losing to a weaker opponent unless there are some side benefits involved like recruiting. This has been a factor for why Rutgers has had problems getting teams to come to Piscataway. Rutgers is not at a point where it can overschedule, but a marquee OOC opponent here and there is fine.
  2. Either one or two OOC games a year should generally be against perceived peers. Think Georgia Tech, Virginia, Pittsburgh, Louisville, NC State, Cal, etc... The Pac-12 and ACC are the best conferences for this due to their strong middles, as the Big XII and SEC have stark disparities between the haves and have nots for the most part.
  3. Recruiting does matter. UCF and USF would make a lot of sense, as would some of the afore-mentioned programs like Pitt and Virginia that are near the program's recruiting footprint. For the same reason, it doesn't make a ton of sense to play programs like BC, UConn, or Syracuse that recruit heavily in New Jersey but don't offer rich areas in return, and also violate principles one and two. Unless, they fall under principle four.
  4. Can they offer anything in other sports? Geography is less of a concern in football than everywhere else. Rutgers basketball will need good OOC games within traveling distance. Programs like UConn and Cuse of course already do well recruiting in New Jersey and NYC, but any added exposure helps, especially with Syracuse now in a southern conference. Ordinarily, these basketball programs don't get that much from coming to the RAC, nor would we from playing them in football. A marriage of convenience however could make sense for all parties. Although, by all means, let's root for UConn to get left behind at the altar in favor of Louisville. I'm not thrilled about it because football offers far more economic value than basketball, but you have to throw hoops a bone given the move to such a football-centric conference.

Unfortunately, this means they probably have to keep scheduling games against willing Big East conference opponents at least for the near future. The day when the five power conferences secede from the NCAA and lock all of the Big East's non-football schools out of major conference basketball permanently will be a wonderful and glorious one, but until then we have to bide our time for practical reasons. Don't feel guilty, this sort of plotting is nothing compared to the machinations that came out of Providence over the past few decades. To pretend that the forming of the Big East was anything other than another instance of throwing down the gamut in the cartelization and monetization of college athletics is high comedy. The Big Ten, the ACC, everyone, they all always have and always will be motivated primarily by extracting as many dollars as possible from consumers. Rutgers athletics has finally grown up and gotten wise to this long con, and is all the better for it as a result.