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Post-Yom Kippur Game a Challenge for Rutgers

Big Ten blows it with scheduling.

Gregory Shamus

Note: this is NOT intended to argue theology; rather, solely the matter of the practical inconvenience.

Regardless of the fact that Michigan's season, and Brady Hoke's coaching tenure, seem to be rapidly spiraling out of control, Rutgers still is rightly treating next Saturday's game on campus as a very big deal. Penn State mattered, because they're the personification of evil and we hate them beyond all comprehension. Michigan, they're the Big Ten program along with Wisconsin that we genuinely envy, with a combination of strong academics and building winning athletics programs the right way. Michigan is on the Mt. Rushmore of college football, and their first visit to Piscataway is likely to be memorialized for years to come. One would assume that the Big Ten conference would want to maximize both attendance and ratings for the game.

That's why the Big Ten scheduling the game for this week is so unfortunate. Either schedule a bye, a road game, or a game that nobody cares about like Indiana. Not only is Rutgers the only FBS program in the New York City metropolitan area, but it also has the second largest Jewish student population in the country per Hillel (Michigan is 7th.) If the game is Rutgers/Indiana (which again, no one cares about even if Indiana is pretty entertaining under Kevin Wilson), or it's Rutgers going on the road to say, Nebraska, that is potentially inconveniencing a lot fewer people. Heck, move the game to Thursday. It's just not right, just like it was not right for Rutgers to play Syracuse on Yom Kippur three years ago (38th in population per Hillel, but at a slightly higher per capita rate.) Yes, the game technically starts an hour or two after sundown, but that is still a terrible inconvenience.

There are two objections that will probably come up to this post, and both of them don't seem like great arguments, but let's address them. The first is that most games are on Saturdays, and Jewish fans go to them anyway, so what's the big deal? That's true, but there's quite a bit of difference between a standard Saturday (where the rules tend to vary by denomination), and one of three days in a year that people with otherwise minimal observance tend to care about. It's the equivalent of Easter or Christmas. Majority rules, but asking for a tiny little exception here isn't exactly a hardship or a wild inconvenience. There are definitely fans who will go anyway, begrudgingly or not, but a certain portion, likely in the hundreds, will be staying home.

That leads into the idea that only the will of the majority matters. Either only respect Easter and Christmas, or be 100% secular and give no heed to anybody, including those guys who always complain about conflicts with The Hunt. The first is plainly ridiculous, as New Jersey is as secular and diverse as the United States gets, which doubly applies to Rutgers - an campus heavy on international students and first generation immigrants, with the largest South Asian population of any university in the United States. (This isn't documented, but there's absolutely no way that it isn't true.) Solemn Hindu days absolutely should warrant the same treatment as well. It's just a matter of luck that the most important Christian holy days are in the spring and doldrums of bowl season, and thus don't have much effect on football and basketball.

As far as secularism goes, what's important is the distinction of a reasonable accommodation. It's not reasonable to ban football because Quakerism abhors all violence. Nor would it be reasonable to erect gigantic religious display with university funds. What is reasonable is the practice of non-discrimination, wherein religious student groups do have the same right to use university facilities as non-sectarian groups. Similarly, asking for a slight shuffle here isn't out of this world. Maybe it should happen and maybe it shouldn't, but it is not a request that comes off as self-evidently ridiculous. The Big Ten of course is an emotionless corporate death star solely concerned with making money and absolutely nothing else, and that has largely worked out well for Rutgers by all accounts, but perhaps they should be concerned that their inflexibility on this issue could generate a negative public response, that would in turn hurt the bottom line. As we have seen recently with the NFL, that is truly the only way to get the attention of powerful sports leagues in 2014, meaning that the ball is now wholly in their court.