With both of the signature programs for Rutgers athletics, football and men’s basketball, set to enter year two of a major rebuilding process next fall, there are many factors to consider. One aspect of rebuilding a program that I find very interesting and that can be a polarizing topic with the fan base is scheduling. More specifically, how should each program schedule their non-conference opponents, both now and in the future. I have my own opinions, which I will share at the end, but I thought it would be more interesting to focus on the views of a group of alumni that are as passionate about Rutgers as any people I know.
The panel I’ve assembled includes a couple of alums who graduated as far back as four decades ago, several in the time in between, with as recent as a member of the 250th graduating class in 2016. They are all season ticket holders for one or both sports, or actively attend games on a regular basis. I asked them nine questions related to scheduling, while also closing with what reasonable expectations there should be for both programs. Let me introduce the panel, which includes some familiar friends and well known supporters.
John is a graduate from the Rutgers College class of 1972 and Rutgers Business School in 1978. He is also a former trustee, a former President of the Rutgers Alumni Association and was honored as a loyal son of Rutgers by the Alumni Association.
Scott is a member of the class of 2015. He was an active member of the Riot Squad and served as Marketing Director for a time. He describes himself as the “Former Long-Haired Big Dude of the Student Section." Scott is also an emeritus contributor of this site and wrote the most read article in On The Banks history, in which he made a passionate and intelligent plea to fans to clean up Penn State chants.
She is an Rutgers 2016 graduate, part of the 250th graduating class, was a member of the marching band for four years. Zuzu majored in Ecology, evolution, and natural resources major in SEBS, is a lover of Brower Commons and is a Loyal Daughter. Zuzu has collaborated with us several times before and is a contributor with Off Tackle Empire.
Dave is a graduate of Rutgers Livingston class of 2001 with a BA in English. While he was once a football season ticket holder and still attends games, he has been a basketball season ticket holder since 2002. Of course, Dave was OTB’s main basketball writer for years and is an emeritus contributor now, as his professional writing career has blossomed.
Jon went to Rutgers College in the early 80’s and is a graduate in the class of 1990. He has been a Rutgers fan since he was five since his mom, dad and uncles went there, so that's more than 50 years. He was the WRSU sports director in 1982 and is a prominent donor for RVision.
Richard graduated phi beta kappa and summa cum laude from Rutgers College in the Class of 1972, was his Class’s President, is currently the President of the Rutgers Club of Connecticut, and was honored as a loyal son of Rutgers by the Alumni Association. He has written many sports books and calls Yale men’s basketball games on the radio.
On to the questions.......
In the early going of the tenures of Chris Ash and Steve Pikiell, both coaches have scheduled lightly on the non-conference portion. Do you agree with that approach during the rebuilding process, despite having little allure for the fan base?
John Capodici: Yes. We need to "heal" and grow given the recent mismanagement of Football and Basketball programs.
Scott Logan: It's not fan-friendly, but yes, I'm on board with that approach. After some rough seasons on both the football and basketball front, these programs are starving for wins, however they can get them. And from a recruiting standpoint, being able to tote a better win-loss record on a light schedule is better than blaming a poor record on tough opponents. When these teams prove they're on the way up, then schedule some tougher teams that they actually have a chance of beating.
Zuzu: You see, I actually like the light games that provide potential wins. It's a boost for the players to have any win and definitely a boost for the fans. I can't describe how excited I got after both the Howard and New Mexico wins last season and the almost perfect slate of pre-B1G season basketball wins. It feels good. Yeah it may not help the teams on the field, but they are confidence boosting for sure.
Dave White: The fan base is the trickiest part. I'm not sure about Ash--he's in one of the toughest divisions in all of college football, and at some point you have to win. There are so few games, that bringing in a extra stud football team when you're just trying to get bowl eligible is something of a hindrance. You have to find some wins.
As for Pikiell, he has so much to build up on. People forget that for the past 4 years, since the Mike Rice saga, Rutgers hasn't been just any old bad college hoops team. They've been legendary in their badness. Rutgers' needs to go from being legendarily bad to just a normal old college hoops team. That started last year as Rutgers was in nearly every game with an under-talented squad. Pikiell is still building and bringing in talent and will go to battle with a league that is one of the best in the country. He has to change perception to keep building and that means winning fast. Remember the buzz Rutgers got out of an 11-1 start last year? They would probably get some off-season buzz if they managed to go 17-14 next year. Sometimes you have to schedule light. That said, this kind of scheduling for a 31 game season can't go on forever.
Jon Newman: With football, while on the surface the next couple of years look “light”, I’m looking at 2020 at UCLA and Temple, then the reverse of that the following year. I’m seeing Boston College and Temple in years after that as well as Virginia Tech joining the schedule later on. You have to keep in mind, especially on the football side, Rutgers plays in arguably either the number one or two toughest divisions in all of college football. Every year we are playing, as you know Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State and even Indiana and Maryland. I don’t know if that’s a light schedule or not and in my opinion the goal should be to get to a bowl game. You need to find a way to do that, especially early in the first three years, it’s smart to schedule a little lighter just because that’s the way to build a program.
On the basketball side, you have to realize where that program is and that last year Pikiell did an incredible job winning 15 games, albeit with a non-conference schedule that was weak. But again, we are playing in a great basketball conference, which we always have. If you know the first level of success is getting back to .500, there was a lot of excitement last year when we got off to that good start and played more competitively in the league and probably should have won a couple of more games to get to that .500 level. I have no problem with scheduling light the first two years to build momentum and to help him on the recruiting trail, because perception is reality there.
Richard Kent: I actually think that Pikiell has scheduled more lightly than Ash has and he has more non-conference games to schedule than in football. At least Ash is playing some relatively credible teams. I think the men’s basketball non-conference schedule this year is a disgrace. I understand the theory in wanting to have a winning record next season at 17-16 perhaps or something like that. It doesn’t matter, regardless of how many people says that is does, it doesn’t matter, because you aren’t going to the NCAA’s or the NIT and there is no difference in a winning culture between going 17-16 and 15-18. No difference at all. If you don’t generate interest in November and December, and of course we have that four day hiatus with two Big Ten games this season, it’s conceivable Rutgers will not leave the RAC before New Years Day otherwise. The only school I can find that has ever done that is Syracuse and that included two games at Madison Square Garden. It doesn’t make sense to me.
Do you worry that having a less challenging non-con schedule ill prepares the teams for Big Ten play?
John Capodici: No. It is a great way to learn how to win and increase confidence.
Scott Logan: I don't think so. If a coach is doing his job, he should have his team mentally and physically prepared for the challenges that the Big Ten schedule presents. The quality of non-conference opponents shouldn't have an effect. For example, playing at Washington didn't make Rutgers football any better last season, and I don't think things would have been any better if they played tougher opponents than Howard or New Mexico.
Zuzu: Like I said, it at least gives the teams confidence and boosts morale. This is more valuable for teams than people think.
Dave White: For hoops, it probably does. Sometimes, when you win easily you can get overconfident. And when you get stuck in a nailbiter with a team you should beat easily because they get hot from three, it can be a demoralizing. And then when the real teams show up, you're taken aback. You need some real tests in the schedule.
As for football, the conference games start so quickly, I'm not sure it matters. Often, teams need a respite.
Jon Newman: I don’t really think so. If you remember last year, the basketball team was amped up and very confident heading into the Big Ten play, because they had 11 wins. I didn’t think they were any less prepared. In fact, I think they were more prepared because the coach and staff was better than the previous three years leading up to last season. I think that showed they were much more competitive during the league schedule overall last year than they were during the Eddie Jordan years. I don’t think it has much to do with the schedule, but I think it has a lot to do with coaching and how they prepare. There were still some close and tough games in the out of conference schedule last season.
The other thing is that Rutgers won all of the games they should have won in out of conference last season. Under Jordan and other coaches, they lost some games against “easier” teams. That did more to hurt their psyche. Does going 7-6 in non-conference play prepare you better for Big Ten play? Rather than go 11-2? They played Miami on the road and knew what that felt like with that 12 point loss. You don’t need twenty of those games to prepare you. They need one or two. It’s all about momentum and perception and those guys were feeling good about themselves after non-conference play. I’d rather them feel good about themselves than go to three or four places and get beat by 20 and then go “oh my god, we are going to get blown out on the road in Big Ten play”.
Richard Kent: I think that playing Stony Brook, Miami and Seton Hall, all on the road last season, was tremendously instrumental last year in getting the team ready for the rigors of the Big Ten. Other than playing Seton Hall at home, which is going to be a loss at the RAC, this season’s schedule as it seems to be assembled doesn’t help you prepare for Michigan State and Indiana on the road.
For football, no good will come from playing Washington, as the game is not winnable. They’re a 33 point underdog right now. I think that Rutgers played way better against Washington on the road last season compared to Michigan and Ohio State, though.
How much do you think traditional and regional rivalries should be a part of the current scheduling for football and basketball?
John Capodici: A decent part. We are New Jersey. We have to retain who we are and this a good way to do it.
Scott Logan: If it makes sense, I'm all for it. I think it's a lot more important and feasible for rivalry games to be scheduled in basketball, simply due to the sheer number of non-conference games available. Only having three non-conference games in football makes it a little more difficult, but I'm always excited by a good rivalry game. The more the merrier.
Zuzu: Eh. Rutgers has some rather watered down classic football rivalries in my opinion. I like the idea of looking to the future and building up B1G rivalries with teams which we will play annually. For example, I love to hate Maryland, and Penn State goes without saying. I think we also kind of have a football thing going with Indiana. We definitely need to keep Seton Hall in basketball though.
Dave White: The local flavor of hoops drives the... I don't know... it causes the energy in the building. Sometimes when local teams show up at the RAC, even if they are cupcakes, there can be a little extra juice in the building. Those teams bring their fans, there's some cheering and there's some energy. It's much more important than playing Texas Anaheim State Park College on a random Tuesday night.
Jon Newman: I would love to play old Big East and Atlantic 10 schools and New Jersey teams in basketball, but I don’t think any school loads up on those types of games in non-conference. Every school their version of easy. Only the really big schools like a Kentucky, who plays Kansas, Indiana, etc load up because those are programs that can do that to get ready for the tournament. Do I want to play Seton Hall every year? Absolutely. Should we play Princeton at least every other year or every year? Absolutely. Should we sprinkle in the Monmouth’s, the Rider’s, all of those? Absolutely. You still need to play some of the “easier” schools to get ready and get enough wins. Eventually, down the road 4-5 years, you are going to want to have that better RPI and strength of schedule because hopefully by then you want to be in the conversation for NCAA bids and you need that. The regional-ness of the schedule, there are certain things that are baked in. Would I like to see them go to preseason tournaments in Hawaii or Cancun and experience that like the program did years ago? Absolutely. I just don’t think the program is there yet and I don’t think you force it there yet. I think Steve is doing the exact right thing in trying to build a program the right way. Until he feels he has the talent for that type of schedule, there is no reason for him to put the team in a situation that would bash the players and put a very fragile fan base, as you know, upset or down, because they went somewhere and didn’t win two out of three games.
With football, I would rather, knowing that you are going to get some very good homes games that you are guaranteed of every year, let’s get some winnable games on the schedule, build a program. UCLA is tough. Temple, if they continue, is a good group of five school. I like scheduling eastern opponents because there is a little bit of tradition there. Boston College is “Fredo” and I never thought we would ever play them again. I like playing Virginia Tech. I would love to see Syracuse or Pittsburgh back on the schedule. If every year we have an ACC or Big 12 opponent, plus two decent group of give schools, I’d pay for that every year.
The argument that Rutgers shouldn’t be playing Princeton, in basketball or any sport, because we are now a major research institution in the Big Ten, is ridiculous. Do you not think that Princeton isn’t a major research institution compared to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Northwestern? Obviously they are, look at their Rhode scholars, the Pell Grants, the money that the government pours into academics at Princeton. They are way superior to any Big Ten school.
Princeton almost beat Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament last year and I think Mitch Henderson is an excellent coach. I also think Steve Pikiell is an excellent coach as well. I think they’re on the same level.
I have no problem with what Ash is doing in playing former Big East rivals like Boston College, Temple, Virginia Tech, but Steve Pikiell is not doing that. I get the fact that he wants the roster full of his own kids before scheduling more challenging opponents, but if I could craft this year’s schedule, I would make a lot of changes. Playing East Carolina, Central Conn State and Hartford, who did give Rutgers trouble last year, and play Monmouth over NJIT. I would play out of conference Princeton, a low ACC or SEC team, whoever is second to worst, like when they played Clemson. Then it’s okay to play a bunch of cupcakes. I cannot subscribe to the idea that it matters to have a winning record next year, no one will care other than die hard Rutgers fans.
Are you upset that Rutgers and Princeton are not playing for the 150th Anniversary in 2019?
John Capodici: Not upset at all. I don't care if we ever play Princeton again in basketball or football.
Scott Logan: I am. A lot can be made about strength of schedule of non-conference opponents and the desire to schedule more challenging opponents, but that would have been a fun, monumental event to recognize the beginning of this great sport. Oh well.
Zuzu: Not very. Like I said, Rutgers has watered down historic rivalries now. Also, we'd want it to be a competitive game. A blowout would be no fun for a special game such as this, and even though we may have struggled the past two years... we would probably have no problem dispatching them.
Dave White: I don’t care.
Jon Newman: I don’t think they wanted to play us. I don’t have any knowledge on that, but it was very clear that they went out of their way to schedule an in-conference game at Yankee Stadium on that weekend. What does that tell you? With that said, it would have been great. It wouldn’t have done anything for either program from an on the field standpoint, but it would have been a great way to commemorate it. From what I understand that there is a group that’s been put together that Pat Hobbs and the Big Ten are trying to figure out the best way to commemorate that weekend and that year. I’m hoping they can come up with something. There should be something happening that weekend or a designated weekend when we celebrate the anniversary. For that to go by without anything happening would be very unfortunate. I know people are working on it right. I would have loved to see Princeton come back but I think it was very clear that was something they didn’t want to happen.
Richard Kent: One writer once coined it the “Route 1 rivalry” and that’s with Princeton. You can’t play them every year in football, but it blows my mind they aren’t playing in 2019 for the 150th anniversary. I’ve told you before that I have good information that the game would have been featured on ESPN College GameDay, which I don’t think we will ever see now at Rutgers Stadium. It makes no sense to me at all. I know Princeton really well and they had 3 quarterbacks on the roster last season that were better than any on Rutgers. Even so, I do think Rutgers would have won by double digits last season and 2019 is difficult to project, but Princeton will never have the depth to beat Rutgers. I don’t think Rutgers would ever be in jeopardy to losing to Princeton. One irony is that Ash was an assistant at Princeton early on in his career. 2019 would have only been a one shot deal and the idea that Rutgers would beat up Princeton physically seems overstated in my opinion.
During my reunion weekend I spoke to a bunch of my classmates and to a person, they wanted Rutgers to play Princeton in 2019 in football and they wanted Rutgers to play Princeton in as many sports as possible. I understand that a 30 year old Rutgers fan is going to say who cares what a 71 year old guy thinks. I think our class donated over 2.1 million dollars. Maybe if a guy near our age saw Rutgers beat Princeton in football in 2019 by the score of 34-10, he would be more willing to open up his wallet and make a donation. However, that same guy probably isn’t going to care if Rutgers beats Liberty in 2019. For me and guys my age, this is it. We won’t be around for the 200th anniversary between Rutgers and Princeton. There would have been people at this game in 2019 for the 150th that were at the game in 1969 for the 100th anniversary. I was there. Then forget it, you don’t play Princeton again. I get it, it’s not happening.
In football, who do you consider the biggest/most appropriate rival moving forward?
John Capodici: Would love to not say Penn State or Ohio State or Michigan. Would like to start another one in Indiana or Maryland.
Scott Logan: In a perfect world, Penn State. But I don't think a mutually acknowledged rivalry can get going until Rutgers actually beats them. So when that happens, we'll see. But in the here and now, I think a Rutgers-Maryland rivalry could be a lot of fun. Their matchups in 2014 and 2015 were exciting, dramatic games, and I think they're a lot closer to being equals than RU-PSU. Plus, this season's game at Yankee Stadium puts this budding rivalry on a bigger stage.
Zuzu: Maryland, 100%. We need to compete with them for, unfortunately, NOT the bottom of the B1G East and the better Big Ten noob. We're close to them and we can't let them pull further ahead. We came back by 25 points for the win at their stadium in our first in-conference meeting with them. Right now, they're the team we need to regularly beat.
Dave White: Everyone says Penn State, but you have to be in some close games before you build a rival. Back in the Big East, there was a budding rivalry with UConn. That was fun. (YOU BE QUIET, COMMENTS SECTION. DEAL WITH MY THOUGHTS.)
Jon Newman: I don’t think you can get into a rhythm of playing one school as a rival in football considering you only have three non-conference games every year. When there were four, you had more flexibility. We don’t have that kind of rival that warrants playing the same team every year, nor do I think we should have that type of rival.
I would love to see Syracuse on the schedule again. I love seeing BC and Virginia Tech back on the schedule. I’d love to see UConn and at some point West Virginia back on the schedule. Those were the teams that are the historic rivals of Rutgers and a place for them as that 1 power five team every year for that eastern flavor reinserted back into the schedule.
Richard Kent: You can’t pick a rival. Look at that silliness with UConn and Central Florida. I’m fine with playing against Syracuse and Boston College in football most years, one of the two. Rutgers versus BC had a lot of very good games over the years. Those are games that I would be proud with a win over those schools than a win over Purdue. Rutgers is not winning that Big Ten East division in football and probably not going to a bowl game for a long time. Rutgers is not recruiting against Purdue, but they’re recruiting against Syracuse and even BC for a lot of kids. Those are two wins you can be proud of, no matter how bad those schools may be in any given year. I think those games would generate a lot of interest. Every single year they should play a school like that. I mean who cares about playing Liberty and UMASS? who is going to be stoked to drive to those games?
In basketball, who do you consider a bigger rival, Seton Hall or Princeton? Should Rutgers play both every season?
John Capodici: The Hall. Yes.
Scott Logan: Seton Hall, and it's not even close. I've been at every RU-SHU game for the past few years, and the animosity in the arenas is always palpable. These fan bases just flat out don't like each other, and I think fans of both programs will always have that game circled on their calendar.
And yes, Rutgers should play both Seton Hall and Princeton every season. With so many non-conference games available, there's no reason not to hype up not one, but two interstate rivalry games each season.
Zuzu: Seton Hall. I went to the game this past year. God, I hated their fans who were undeserving of their smugness. MUST. DEFEAT. PIRATES. But yeah I guess playing both would be cool.
Dave White: I grew up in the Seton Hall era. Seton Hall was the rival. The kids played together in high school, there was a genuine dislike amongst the two teams. There was a hatred in the stands and sometimes players ended up in the stands. The games were and are crazy. Princeton is a traditional rival, but for me Seton Hall has the bad blood.
But we should play both. It's fun. Yay, fun. You know, sports is fun, right? Guys?
Jon Newman: I think in the long term view, even though history dictates Princeton, it has to be Seton Hall. That’s were the majority of the fan base is at, that’s where the media’s head is and right now on an annual basis is where success in-state is going to be gauged. I don’t think that precludes us from playing Princeton on somewhat of a regular basis, it just depends on what both teams want to do. I think Seton Hall, without question as a “rival”, is where the fan base is. I’d like to go back to the days where we are playing Syracuse every once in a while. When I was going to school back in the day, that was the team that was the rival that sold out the RAC. St. John’s was much more of a rival as well over Seton Hall when I went to school.
Richard Kent: In basketball, playing Princeton is a great challenge and it would be a great win. I can’t imagine why Pikiell would be embarrassed if Rutgers lost to Princeton and no one in the media would blast them for doing so.
In basketball, the all-time series is an 75-45 advantage for Princeton, despite Rutgers winning 12 of the past 17 games. They used to play twice a year for a time. The games up until 2013, the games have been competitive. Last year, Princeton was much better than Rutgers. I spoke to Steve Pikiell early on when he took over Rutgers and he said he wanted to play Princeton eventually, but didn’t think his team was ready.
People don’t realize that Princeton no longer plays the deliberate style they were known for under Pete Carrill through John Thompson. They now play a run and gun style under head coach Mitch Henderson. It’s not like there is a concern like playing Navy in football because they play such a different style, that isn’t true with Princeton in basketball anymore. Princeton is no different stylistically than playing Minnesota or Nebraska.
My hunch is Steve Pikiell wants to wait until the current core group of Princeton graduates, led by Devin Cannady, who are going to be juniors this year, before scheduling them. I understand the argument of playing Seton Hall being a rival because they are also a recruiting rival as well. With Brett McConnell a former four year team manager at Rutgers and his father was the associate AD for many years, he has made New Jersey a focus for Princeton in recruiting. I’m still surprised Rutgers never recruited Amir Bell, who plays for Princeton and is from East Brunswick, and not recruiting more Ivy players to be honest. In doing the Yale basketball games for radio & Ivy Digital Network, as well as watching a lot of Rutgers games, I think the best they would have done was finish third in the Ivy. Princeton will drop down a notch below Harvard and Yale.
It’s so naive for people to say that it would be a bad loss to Princeton. Their final RPI last season was 49th and they were higher during the season. Rutgers v. Princeton has a ring to it for any grad over the age of 50. Princeton has played Rutgers more than any other non-conference team in basketball in their history.
How much should Rutgers look to schedule locally in all sports for non-conference play?
John Capodici: 50%.
Scott Logan: For a number of reasons, I think it varies from sport-to-sport. But any local rivalry that drums up interest in what would otherwise be an uninteresting non-conference game, especially if it's close enough to get fans of both teams in attendance, I'm all for it.
Zuzu: A good bit. It would certainly bring the fans/crowds when you have people from both schools living in the same household and neighborhoods.
Dave White: Football is more a national sport and I don't believe it matters as much. Hoops, you need to play east coast teams. You need that buzz.
Jon Newman: I think it takes two to tango and I don’t know if Princeton would reciprocate and want to play Rutgers in as many sports as they used to. I’d like to play them more in some sports. Definitely basketball, women’s basketball, but I don’t think it should be mandatory to play Princeton in every sport that we can. I don’t know if that’s what they want either. In the sports that we can do it, that’s fine, but I don’t think you can force those things anymore. It’s 1976 anymore. I was in school the last year we played Princeton in football and we didn’t treat them very well at the end of the day. Basketball without question. We play them in men’s lax every year. But I don’t think you can force it in every sport.
In New Jersey, based on where the programs all are and what’s happened since then, I think that Seton Hall is the rival, but Princeton should be on the schedule at least every other year. I would also like to see a rotation between a Rider and a Monmouth because those are both schools that have had some success over the past decade.
Eventually, at least one of them on the schedule, maybe rotate them as well. I’m sure once Pikiell gets the program turned around, I think he is smart enough to know the importance of that for a number of different reasons. Right now, for me it’s a brilliant move on his part and he knows what he is doing. He needs to get wins. I don’t think the kids really look and say , oh they got five wins against these teams? They just look at wins and momentum, people getting excited and the RAC becoming a more exciting place when they visit as recruits because we’ve won a certain number of games in a row instead of getting hammered.
Richard Kent: Princeton has won 45 national championships since 1994 and is the biggest reason why Rutgers doesn’t play them more, because Princeton is better. How does Rutgers play Columbia in baseball and not play Princeton?
I’m telling you, the argument being a large research university and that’s why we shouldn’t play Princeton makes no sense. Albert Einstein taught at Princeton. Isn’t there value in aligning alongside Princeton and playing them every year in most sports? Rutgers has developed some form of Big Ten snobbery that does not take hold when considering Princeton. I get that in playing UCONN, but it doesn’t apply to Princeton, which is historic.
I’d rather see them play Rider than CCSU or Hartford, some of the kids know each other and you would probably draw another 1,000 fans because of them being a local school.
What type of non-conference scheduling philosophy should football and basketball have in the long term, once both coaches have the programs more established?
John Capodici: One that balances the strength of the arduous Big schedule and one that gives RU an occasional breather.
Scott Logan: For now, get wins however they can get them. But once they right the ship and start showing a consistent ability to be be competitive with mid- to upper-level teams, start sprinkling in some tough games on the non-conference games once they're confident they have a real shot at some wins.
Zuzu: We need cupcake games that fans can look at on the calendar and feel relaxed and attend for a good, low stress time, but also the occasional heavyweight to go out of our comfort zone and see what we're truly capable of. For example, the future Virginia Tech home and home is a great example of the latter and so was Washington State. I think we already do well scheduling the right cupcakes. Except Washington... nice job, Julie.
Dave White: The key is wins. And it depends on where you are in the building process. Like I said, right now Pikiell is trying to just get the team respectable again. When he feels the squad is ready to make an NCAA run, he needs to think RPI. Because weak schedules will kill you with the committee.
Jon Newman: As time goes on, in basketball, you have much more flexibility in scheduling non-conference games, as you are doing so on a year to year basis primarily. Based on the fact most years we will be in the Gavitt Games (v Big East) and the ACC Challenge every year. Would I like to see more New Jersey teams on the schedule? Absolutely. Will it happen? I imagine it will more down the line. Again, this year I have no problem with the way Pikiell has scheduled because the conference is going to be tough again and it’s not like we need a high RPI ranking to compete for an NCAA bid this season. We need to remember where we are now. We can have one more win than losses this coming season and that would help Pikiell tremendously on the recruiting trail. This is about a program that was nothing a year and a half ago and everyone got excited last season. If scheduling helps in that regard, I’m all in favor of that.
Greg Schiano did that in his first few years. Every year there was either a historically black school or a DI-AA school at the time. We aren’t allowed to do that anymore, so the option after that is to schedule at least one or two group of five schools, whether you want to schedule a tough one or an easy one. If you want to get to six, which is the magic number of wins, and you know you already have at least four or five brutal Big Ten games every year, how are you going to get there? Do you want to win and go to bowl games, or do you want to schedule tough? I would rather, knowing that you are going to get some very good homes games that you are guaranteed of every year, let’s get some winnable games on the schedule, build a program.
I do think it makes sense from a flavor standpoint to take those three non-conference games for football and schedule one ACC team and or Big 12 team or SEC team, which they are essentially doing now. That’s the philosophy. They have one decent group of five team in Temple on the schedule eventually for four years. I think you will see more of those. And then take that last game and schedule a MAC school or a lower conference team like the Sun Belt. For me, that’s what makes sense as you need to have at least two of those games that are fairly winnable. You don’t know if Temple will be winnable every year?
This year, we are hoping Eastern Michigan and Morgan State are winnable. Next year, we are hoping Buffalo, Texas State are winnable, that you can maybe squeak out a win on the road at Kansas. If that happens, then all you need is three league victories to be in your happy place to go to Dallas or Detroit to at least say, we went to a bowl game, we can recruit on that. Then you move up the rung on the ladder and see if you can win 7-8 games and go to a better bowl.
We’re very much in what I like to call “the early Schiano stage” again and it took Greg how many years to get to Phoenix for that first bowl game and then things started happening. He scheduled similarly. The beauty of his schedule is that he didn’t have to play Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State every year. He had a different version of that, maybe every year the Big East has 2 teams that were very good, now you have 4-5 teams every year. Now you have to win 2 or 3 non-conference games to have a shot to go to a bowl game or to have a really good season.
Richard Kent: Rutgers basketball should play in the Jimmy V game every three to four years, while also playing a major team in MSG, at least every other year. Every team wants to play in the Garden. Having Rutgers play a Duke at the Garden would be an event. When year four comes around for basketball when the 2018 class are sophomores, you have to play a home and away at the RAC against a Wake or Auburn, or a UMASS/Rhody/GW. The Jimmy V game would resonate with Rutgers fans in the garden.
What are realistic expectations for football and basketball by the end of year four for both Ash and Pikiell, in regards to results?
John Capodici: FB mid level bowl game. B.B. Not satisfied with NIT and on the "cusp" being selected for NCAAs.
Scott Logan: I think 2017 is an important year for Ash. After a nightmarish first season on the banks, he has to instill some confidence in this fanbase by producing a team that can at least hang with the mid-tier teams of the Big Ten, even if it doesn't result in a bowl berth. Improvement and progress is the name of the game for Ash this year. If this team shows steady signs of improvement (and doesn't lose games by obscene margins) and Ash is able to build off a successful 2017 recruiting class, then I think Rutgers could realistically find themselves pushing for 7-8 wins by Year 4.
Pikiell's squad seems a lot better off at this point in time. Rutgers' win-loss record wasn't overly inspiring in 2016-17, but fans who watched every game know just how much better this team looked in Pikiell's first year. They may have been losses, but strong performances at Seton Hall and against Wisconsin at MSG stand out. Maybe I'm drinking the kool-aid, but an NIT berth doesn't feel impossible this coming season. By Year 4? Maybe Rutgers will be dancing for the first time in my life.
Zuzu: Year four? Hmmm. I think Ash will have us bowling via 6 or 7 wins again. Best case scenario is 8. I'd like to think the worst would be 6. I think Pikiell will be in a very good place in his year four and we'll be shockingly competitive in B1G games.
Dave White: I REFUSE TO ANSWER THIS QUESTION AND HAVE IT THROWN BACK IN MY FACE AARON.
Jon Newman: For football, I would love to be going back to bowl games. I think a good goal for every year by year 4 or 5 is to get at least 8 wins. Anything less than that we have to see where we are at that point. You don’t know what’s going to happen to other programs either. We’ve been cursed with two brutal schedules right out of the shoot but the western division opponents start to get a bit easier now over the course of the next couple of years, giving us some more wiggle room.
From the basketball side of things, by year 4 or 5 we should be looking to get into some type of postseason at least the NIT and probably scheduling a little tougher. Eventually start flirting with NCAA bids. There are cycles that happen with both programs with old players have to cycle out and the new coaches players come in. That makes for a higher level of accountability at that point. There is a higher expectation level at that point. I think year 4 or 5 you are at that point that you need to start seeing progress and cant see any slippage, you can judge the types of players they are bringing in from a recruiting standpoint and how they are developing those players. Other things like off the field behavior and classroom performance have to be solid as well.
Richard Kent: I think that Steve Pikiell will be the head coach at Rutgers for awhile. I’m not ready to say that yet about Chris Ash with football. I think this year best case scenario is 4-8, while basketball can go .500 with the watered down schedule. The Big Ten in basketball is not great, but for football the East division is murderous. The Big East was much more difficult in hoops than the Big Ten. The top five teams in the Big East were better than what the Big Ten is now. Steve Pikiell has low expectations to compete with and has four more years of gravy before anyone cares about his record and would even consider firing him. For Ash, if he goes 2-10 or 3-9 the next couple of seasons, I think there will be an uproar.
In terms of expectations for year four or five, in football, 6-6 is the near future ceiling and a bowl game.
In basketball, they should be a solid NIT team. 17-15 is not an NIT team, it’s run by the NCAA now, you have to win 19 overall and 7 in conference play to have a chance. I don’t see them making the NCAA Tournament in his first 5 years and it took him awhile at Stony Brook. That doesn’t make him a bad coach, it’s going to take time. I would not be surprised if Pikiell gets them there eventually. I think Steve Pikiell was as good of a hire of any they could have made at the time. The relationship with the Big Ten, the revenue, the association is great. But that doesn’t mean a NYC kid would rather play in that conference over the Big East. They’d rather play in the Garden multiple times a year than play Purdue or Minnesota. The Big Ten from a recruiting perspective helps more in football than basketball. If football can recruit at the level of Schiano from 2004-2009, Rutgers could go 7-5 year over year.
Aaron’s Last Word
I am really pleased with the differing opinions, hot takes, and historical perspectives shared by our panel. As I’ve reminisced about before, I’ve been a Rutgers fan since I was 5 years old and grew up watching many games against Princeton in several sports. I’d like to see Rutgers play Princeton more often across the board, with men’s basketball and soccer being the most pressing in my mind. I think football is scheduling appropriately and hope for more non-conference games in the future against former annual foes like Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia. In hoops, I yearn for games against former Atlantic 10 and Big East opponents, but also understand the program needs a couple of years until that’s fair to expect. However, I really think men’s basketball needs a road game out of conference next season and should ramp up scheduling overall the following two seasons.
It’s an exciting time to be a Rutgers sports fan, in my opinion. It’s certainly been a slow burn in watching the painful and abundant losses of recent seasons for football and men’s basketball. However, I believe in Chris Ash and Steve Pikiell in leading both programs and think that year two is about taking a positive step forward, in hopes of real progress soon being beamed as a ray of light at the end of what has been a long, winding, dark tunnel over the years. It will take patience and I used the 4-5 year period regarding expectations for a reason, because I think both programs need that length of time to truly become healthy. I’m confident they ultimately will.
Thank you to our panelists for their candor and passion for Rutgers athletics. And thanks for reading!