By now, hopefully you have already marked your calendar for November 19th, as Rutgers will host an historic doubleheader at High Point Solutions Stadium. Rutgers wrestling will host rival Princeton in their 80th meeting all-time at 11 am that Saturday morning. Ticket info is here. Of course, there is also a primetime football game a few hours later, with Rutgers taking on Penn State on Senior Night. This is set up to be the best gameday and tailgating experience in Rutgers history and that is very important in it's own right, irrespective of the results on the field that day.
When you think of the Big Ten, gameday experiences at many of those schools are a major event. The entire town essentially shuts down in support of their football program. I've been to State College to see Rutgers play Penn State and it truly is a great atmosphere. My friends went to the Michigan game last year and had a great experience.
The Big Ten is about great academic and athletic programs at mostly large state universities, that have state of the art facilities and huge alumni support. Rutgers is getting there, and the R B1G Build campaign is a big step forward in what has become an arms race to keep up in the conference. Another part of stepping up to a Big Ten level experience for students and alumni is on football gamedays. Tailgating. Activities. Promoting Rutgers. Traditions.
I'm not talking about standing in a tent drinking until the point that there isn't much remembered about the day, the game, or not even making it in the stadium. I'm talking about experiencing a day with friends, fans, and fellow alumni in an atmosphere that draws out your love for Rutgers and makes you beam with pride. That’s a special thing that is not experienced at every college. As a member of the Big Ten and with the leadership in place within the Rutgers athletic department, we now have the chance for football gamedays to become a first class experience on a regular basis each fall.
The new regime of athletic director Pat Hobbs and football head coach Chris Ash recognize the importance of the gameday experience. Aside from the Town Hall Forum they held earlier this spring, Rutgers continued the Fan Advisory Board, which began one year prior. The function of this group is for the athletic department to share ideas on gameday promotions and get feedback and additional ideas from the fans within this select group. That's a big step and a welcomed change, making fans and their experience a priority. Fortunately, placing importance on the fans and supporters of Rutgers has become par for the course during the Hobbs era
The November doubleheader has a chance to be the best gameday experience in Rutgers history. Imagine arriving on the banks between 9-10 am for a quick breakfast tailgate before heading into High Point Solutions Stadium. There you will watch our nationally ranked wrestling program (possibly top #10 at the time of the meet) in the first of its kind experience at Rutgers. I think Rutgers and Princeton should jointly invite every New Jersey high school program to attend the meet for free. Not only would that boost the attendance and the atmosphere, but it would be great for recruiting as well.
It’s a big gamble having an outdoor wrestling match in a stadium with over 52,000 seats. Even if 5,000 people attend, which would have been an attendance high for wrestling last season, it would get swallowed up by the thousands of empty seats. I really hope many Rutgers football fans consider getting in early that day and supporting the wrestling team. We need 20,000 plus to really generate an experience that would be special. It would be great if the doubleheader became an annual event as well.
The best part is once the wrestling match is over, there is so much more of the day remaining. The true tailgate for the Penn State game can then begin, with many hours to enjoy being back on campus and having a great day with friends old and new. Great food, drinks, and being surrounded by the pageantry that makes college football a one of a kind experience. Rutgers has some great game day traditions, including the Scarlet Walk before the game, the firing of the cannon and R-U chants during the game, and the playing of the alma mater at the end of the game. We need to continue these traditions and find ways to keep making the fan experience better.
All of our sports teams deserve our support, but football is obviously on the biggest stage. We need to build a reputation as having a great home-field advantage, where our fans keep their tickets and fill up The Point with unbridled enthusiasm. To help ensure that, we need to create a great tailgating experience for all our fans. Also, as much as we want respect from the rest of the Big Ten on the field, we want the fans of the visiting team to be impressed with their Rutgers experience as a whole. Showing them that we too have a great gameday experience is the perfect way to do that.
November 19th will be a great showcase for Rutgers. Hopefully, the wrestling and football teams both come up with big wins over rivals that day. However, even if we fall short on the field, hopefully the events going on all day in and around the stadium will signal that the Rutgers gameday experience will be at a Big Ten level moving forward. And that is a victory in itself.