Dear Pat Hobbs,
In 1999, my sophomore year at Rutgers, I got off the L Bus on Rockafeller Road just across the street from the RAC. Rutgers was playing Georgetown, and had they won that game the path to the NCAA tournament would have been clear. Only two days earlier, I stood in the stands at the Meadowlands and watched Rob Hodgson dribble the ball of his foot and out of bounds. Your previous employer, Seton Hall beat the Scarlet Knights that day.
But all was not lost.
Rutgers was going to beat the Hoyas. I was sure of it. But that night I had class, so when I got off the bus after class, I took a look at the RAC. Something good must have happened, because I could hear the crowd through the concrete walls. Let me say that again, I could hear the crowd through the walls and across the street.
Rutgers lost that game, and was the first team out of the Tournament. I'm sure you watched Selection Sunday and remember the camera focused on Geoff Billet.
A few years later, Kevin Bannon was fired and Gary Waters was brought in. And life goes on, I graduated from Rutgers. I wasn't sold by Waters, but still--I listened to every game. They were fun, they went to overtime and this time actually beat Georgetown. A few weeks later, a buddy of mine who was still in school had an extra ticket for the UConn game at the RAC. I took it. Jerome Coleman hit a bazillion threes and the team won. Days later they took on Syracuse and the same thing happened.
I was sold.
The next year I bought season tickets. Under Gary Waters, there were always games like the ones from above. Taking out Providence. Knocking off Syracuse. Taking the #1 team in the country down to the last seconds. The RAC was an airplane hangar, so loud that you couldn't hear yourself think. The opposition couldn't call out plays.
I know, that seems unbelievable to the current student. But I've written about this all before. The point stands, even when Rutgers was bad under Fred Hill, the games were fun (EDIT: I admit I have a rosier complexion on Hill than I probably should. I remember the SHU nonsense, the Villanova/Pitt back to back and as I said in the comments I supported him way longer than I should have. I was naive.) There was some buzz. There was talent. There were afternoons like Valentine's Day in 2010, where Mike Rosario and crew knocked off Georgetown (them again) by 3 points.
But the past three years, something has happened. The games aren't fun anymore.
The RAC is a morgue. In the past three years, Rutgers has lost to Fairleigh Dickinson, St. Peter's, William and Mary, St. Francis, and Monmouth. They have lost 26 straight Big Ten games. I mean, the Illinois game was wild, but in the end they still lost.
The statistics are just plain ridiculous.
In the past three years, Rutgers has lost by 20 or more points 19 times. In 88 games, Rutgers has lost 19 times. That's 22%. That means that 1 in every 5 times I turn on the game or show up at the RAC, Rutgers could be blown out of the water. For comparison, in the Mike Rice era, the team lost by 20 or more 5 times. In the Fred Hill era, the team lost by 20 twenty times, but that was over 4 full seasons.
I've watched the team lose by 61 points, 34 points, and 50 points. They haven't beaten your former employer since the Mike Rice era.
This season, currently, the team is ranked 283 in KenPom. That is the worst major conference team in the nation by 25 spots. Watching yesterday's game told me enough is enough.
I watch now just to see what Corey Sanders can pull off and then how bad it can get.
Can you imagine that?
What gut punch is coming next?
And here's the big kicker--going to the RAC just plain isn't fun anymore. It feels like duty. We still go to commiserate and shake our heads. Some go just to add on some priority points. I go to the RAC and am able to brainstorm the plot of my next novel.
It's the middle of February and the biggest athletic excitement is the fact that the football team is going to practice for two weeks in April.
Pat, you come from a basketball school. You know what a fun team can do for student and alumni morale in the dark days of winter. You can fix this. The push to build facilities is a good start. But we all know the completion of that building is still years off.
It has to go more than that. And the thing is, we fans aren't asking for miracles. A Sweet Sixteen or a Final Four appearance would be a divine miracle at this point. That's not what we want.
We want a reason to go.
We want basketball to be competitive again. To go to the RAC like we did back in the Gary Waters era and know that there was a shot to win. We want basketball to just be fun again. Give us a reason to go and not be able to think.
Because I guarantee that if a student got off the L Bus on Rockafeller Ave while a game is going on, the student wouldn't know there was an event happening there. They wouldn't hear the building explode like I did in 1999. They wouldn't even turn their head.
You're in charge now, Pat. Let's raise some awareness. Let's fix this.
Let's save basketball in Piscataway.
Dave White is the author of 5 crime fiction novels and the one of the last of a dying breed: A Rutgers basketball fan. His latest, An Empty Hell, will be released on Tuesday.