Rutgers moved into the Big Ten back in 2014 and to say that there was a rocky transition in athletics would be putting it kindly. As Rutgers alums, supporters and fans, the majority of us knew that while this was great for the long term future, the short term would be an adventure. It turned out to be more like a visit pre-Halloween to a House of Horrors, where the mirror kept showing a reflection of blowout losses to Big Ten blue bloods in virtually every sport. Success was seldom and the negative publicity was prominent. Of course, the athletic department didn’t help things with multiple missteps and scandals off the field.
Fast forward to spring 2017 and it’s fair to be brimming with optimism about the future of Rutgers athletics. In fact, things are a lot better today than they were even one year ago. Just look at this list of accomplishments from Rutgers teams and athletes from the past month alone:
- Track & Field’s Jermaine Griffith earns 1st Team All-America Honors in the men’s 400m. Of the eight collegiate runners to earn this achievement, seven were from the dominant conference in track & field, the SEC. That makes Griffith’s success even more impressive.
- His teammate, Izaiah Brown, won back to back Big Ten Indoor titles in the 400m. An injury kept him from competing at the NCAA Championships.
- Alyssa Black received Honorable Mention All-America Honors for the 3-meter dive at the NCAA Championships.
- This past weekend, the wrestling team completed back to back Top 20 finishes at the NCAA Championships and had two All-Americans in consecutive seasons for the first time ever. Anthony Ashnault became the programs first three-time All-American and also won his second Big Ten title in a row earlier this month.
- The men’s lacrosse team has started the season 8-0 and is now ranked the #1 team in the country, per Inside Lacrosse’s media poll.
That’s four different Rutgers athletes receiving All-America honors in three different sports, as well as two athletes winning individual Big Ten titles in different sports.
The men’s lacrosse team lost preseason All-American Adam Charalambides to injury, as well as another starter out for the season, coming a year after narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament. Despite it all, they have responded by climbing the ranks from the late teens to the top spot in just six weeks time. Our own Bill Tharp gives an in-depth look at the keys to their success this season here.
Aside from these top achieving athletes and men’s lacrosse, there has also been notable progress from two other programs in the past few weeks.
After consecutive losing seasons, the women’s lacrosse team has started this campaign with a 5-4 record and is 1-1 against ranked opponents. They are set to play Ohio State this Friday, a program they beat twice last season and whom they knocked out of the national rankings and Big Ten Tournament.
The program that performed the worst of any Rutgers sport last year was the men’s basketball team. This season, pride was restored under first year head coach Steve Pikiell. They won the most regular season games in it’s three year Big Ten history and also won a Big Ten Tournament game for the first time. They also made Big Ten history as the first #14 seed to ever win a tournament game. And it also came against Ohio State, whose head coach Thad Matta was 11-1 before this year in opening round games of the Big Ten Tournament.
Rutgers was also in the spotlight this past weekend with the gymnastics program hosting the Big Ten Championships. Claire Jones and Makenzey Shanks earned spots on the All-Big Ten Championship team and the Rutgers facilities team made history with an innovative setup for the event.
I’ll now pause for the football only crowd to moan and groan.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................and we are back.
I get it, football is coming off two consecutive losing seasons and Big Ten fan bases love to share the hate for all things Rutgers, most obviously directing it at football. It’s the most visible sport in terms of associating image and perception of a school with the success of it’s football program. The Flood scandals didn’t help, on top of the recent losing, in terms of the reputation of Rutgers among college football fans. There simply hasn’t been much to cheer about on the gridiron recently. However, second year head coach Chris Ash has unquestionably upgraded his staff and the 2017 recruiting class is the best in half a decade. I believe things are headed in the right direction with football under Ash.
Maybe not everyone who roots for Rutgers in certain sports cares about the success of the non-revenue sports. For that, I say too bad. Because any athlete that wears the block R or Rutgers across his or her chest deserves to be supported always and lauded when success is achieved. That’s why everyone should be thrilled with the success of multiple sports in the past month.
Having the #1 men’s lacrosse team in the country isn’t going to shut up Michigan fans who still tweet about winning 77-0 in football, but honestly, who cares. Focus on the positives, which should be celebrated, the big and the small.
In addition to the recent success and improvements among various Rutgers’ teams, fundraising is at an all-time high. New facilities have already been erected, with more on the way. We finally have a leader in Pat Hobbs who has the athletic department aligned as one, for possibly the first time ever. After starting at the bottom in most sports, Rutgers is gaining ground in certain sports on the rest of the Big Ten, despite being four years away from having a full financial share in the conference. Just wait until that begins and Rutgers is on a level playing field financially.
Oh, and I couldn’t forget to mention that Rutgers has had one of the best women’s soccer teams in the Big Ten since it’s arrival. They just added a highly touted recruiting class that includes the National High School Player of the Year in Amirah Ali. Adding their recent success to that of the men’s lacrosse and wrestling teams, Rutgers now has three programs that are relevant on the national scene, not just in the Big Ten. That’s something to be proud of and to celebrate.
Even more success is possible this spring. Izaiah Brown should be healthy again for the outdoor Track & Field season, giving him a chance to defend his 400m Big Ten title after starting his career a perfect 3 for 3 (indoor & outdoor combined). He and Jermaine Griffith both have legitimate chances to gain 1st team All-America status in the 400m this outdoor season.
Of course, the men’s lacrosse team has legitimate Big Ten championship aspirations, as well as Final Four and national title hopes this season.
It will take time for high profile programs like football and men’s basketball to make serious upward strides in the conference. Women’s basketball, Men’s soccer, Volleyball, baseball and softball have a long way to go. Rutgers faithful alums, supporters, and fans need to be patient and not react to the many haters out there. Embrace the journey and be thankful that we are a Big Ten school, regardless of the bumps in the road we have encountered. We know what is really happening internally and it will make successes down the road even sweeter. The future is bright, but the present is pretty good too!