I have a confession to make about something that has been bothering me for awhile now and I need to get it off my chest. I love everything about Rutgers, the good and even the bad with the university, especially with athletics. I love the entire fanbase, the rational ones and even the irrational ones. Every fanbase has their extremists, but I focus on the passion of everyone and it’s a wonderful thing. That’s a big reason why I love sports, because it brings random people together in a unified way that is very rare in this world. Passion is living. Or, as the legendary David Wooderson once said, L-I-V-I-N. However, it’s time for a reality check for some and time to take a pill of hard truth, in order to begin embracing where Rutgers Athletics stands in the Big Ten landscape today.
We are on the bottom. As in last, both in performance and perception, without question. From the Big Ten perspective, Rutgers athletics are not even on the ground floor, but in the basement below it. That’s not to say we don’t have some great teams currently, because we do in sports like wrestling and women’s soccer. We have shown improvement in the fall with field hockey and even volleyball to some degree. Men’s lacrosse had a good season last spring, just falling short of the NCAA Tournament. Still, football and men’s basketball are the high profile sports and shape most of public opinion on any university’s sports programs. It’s no secret that there has been very little to cheer about with both teams since August of 2015 and that has been gasoline to the brush fire that the established fan bases of the Big Ten started upon our arrival in 2014.
The negative views of Rutgers and the resentment that we now reside in the holy temple that is the Big Ten has not surprised me in the least. What surprises me is the reaction of some Rutgers fans to the general consensus of fans from other schools that perceive us as unworthy of being in the Big Ten and consider us a black eye on the rest of the conference. We faced an uphill battle from day one in being accepted by the other Big Ten schools and all we’ve done since arriving is tumbled all the way down the mountain and fallen into a hole in the ground, repeatedly.
This week signaled major change for the better at Rutgers, with the groundbreaking and partnership with RWJBarnabas. It marked significant progress for Rutgers in the arms race that exists in the Big Ten and was true validation of what we have all seen coming in the past 11 months under the leadership of new athletic director Pat Hobbs. Can you guess how much national coverage it received? I googled it and found zero articles on the deal from outside the local media. Hobbs takes a sip of beer and it’s the third lead story on the front page of ESPN six weeks ago. Hobbs brokers an $18 million dollar deal that not only puts Rutgers in the facilities game for the first time and elevates the medical care of the entire athletic department, a major recruiting chip moving forward, and it literally received not even a generic press mention by the AP, let alone any actual coverage nationally.
Why you ask? Like it or not, Rutgers is viewed as the red headed step child of the Big Ten. Everyone loves to make fun of Rutgers. For a long time, our beloved university provided plenty of ammunition to the haters, well before it entered the Big Ten. As the spotlight has grown, the blunders continued and it amplified the negative perception of Rutgers. If you love Rutgers, you know all of that already. We all suffered through it, believing better days were ahead. The great news is we finally have real hope that those days are actually coming.
The most important fact today is there is a legitimate foundation in place to build on for not only the athletic department, but the entire university, to become truly a best in class institution on every level. If no one in the outside world sees it yet, I say let the sleeping giant continue to lie.
The most frustrating thing to me is the very small minority of our fanbase that spews rhetoric online, offline and every line in between to other fans in the Big Ten. Consider this a public service announcement: STOP! Stop spouting to the rest of conference that Rutgers will one day dominate. Stop trying to explain to them this isn’t our fault and we are the best. Stop taking the bait from other sites online and reacting in ways that not only validates their opinion of our fanbase, but exacerbates the problem. Stop fighting with other fans on twitter and threatening them because they used Rutgers name in vain. Stop feeding the trolls! Just stop! Stop playing checkers, throw away the board and start playing chess.
The actions of a few paint a negative picture of us all for the most part, which is completely unfair, but also a harsh reality. Maybe it’s the negative perception that a good portion of the country has of New Jersey that has worn on some, but that’s even more reason to expect this type of backlash. We all know how great our home state is, despite the turnpike jokes, fist pumping ridicule (they were from Staten Island dammit), and other uneducated negative views of the garden state. Responding with negative comments and threats makes you part of the problem, not the solution. Man or woman up and swallow your pride for now. You can’t fight ignorance with arrogance, it’s a lose lose scenario.
The more you click and read and the more you comment on negative articles, the more sites will continue to publish negative Rutgers related articles. The national media doesn’t have a clue about the positive developments that are transpiring, nor do most other Big Ten fans. It’s not good business for them to spin positive on Rutgers anyway, because making fun of the new kid who has no friends has sadly been in style in American culture long before most Big Ten schools started playing football. Let them sleep on Rutgers. They’ve had many reasons to do so in the past. We all believe that is soon changing, but shouting about it does none of us any favors. If you want to really help defend the wall, donate to the RFund.
Accept we are starting at the bottom, but embrace the journey ahead. But let’s do it together. The actions of a few is causing damage to the many measured and optimistic Rutgers fans that exist. It’s time for that to change. Rebuilding a program takes a lot of time and patience. Rebuilding the vast majority of an entire athletic department takes even more. That’s the reality we live in as Rutgers supporters. We are here now because of years of mismanagement and neglect. Life is not always fair and the years of mistakes and mismanagement by previous administrations is our burden to bear. Embrace it under the umbrella of hope that is now above us.
Look at the Chicago Cubs, who were nicknamed the “lovable losers” after failing to win a World Series title for over a century. That changed two nights ago forever. The general view of Rutgers fans and our teams right now certainly includes the term losers, but far from lovable. We can’t control the first term, but we certainly can to a degree with the second one. Stop feeding into stereotypes, screaming for respect, and threatening to burn the path down on the way to achieving it. Spoiler alert, Rutgers will never, ever be loved by the majority of other fanbases in the Big Ten. However, we shouldn’t worry about outsiders, but care only about “R Family”. Respect will come, but it has to be earned. Take the high road and the long view.
Stop being offended by the hate for Rutgers and focus on the love of our own. When the day comes that Hobbs spoke of so passionately at the groundbreaking ceremony, the real payoff will be worth all the abuse, mockery, and losing we have all endured in the past, present, and immediate future. Keep rooting for the red team, as our athletic department rows upstream, and give it time. Better days are ahead. For now, keep that within the family and let the haters hate. Keep L-I-V-I-N and rooting for Rutgers, but do it the right way!