We’ve sort of been here before. But this is a different angle. A different perspective. Hear me out.
Ryan Dunleavy of nj.com did an interesting - if not depressing - story about the best D1 teams in New Jersey. There are only eight schools in the Garden State that play at that level: Rutgers, Princeton, Monmouth, St.Peter’s, Rider, NJIT, and Fairleigh Dickinson. Oh, yeah. Almost forgot. The Hall. It is easy to overlook them.
In Dunleavy’s piece, he highlighted the best teams across the sports spectrum in 2016-17, pointing out the best, regardless of conference or anything else. To say it was embarrassing for Rutgers would be an understatement.
At this point, let me offer a tip o’ the OTB hat to Ryan for doing the legwork; I am poaching here. Okay, now down to the dirty work.
Dunleavy did include Rutgers wrestling, women’s soccer, and men’s lacrosse on his list of the best teams, just as OTB did several weeks ago. But that’s it. The eight schools cover six different conferences and there were lots of conference titles earned. But none of the trophies had “Big Ten” engraved on it.
The team that helped make us “The Birthplace”
I was in high school, and this kid a year ahead of me was a freshman at Montclair State. He came back to visit and he and I were talking with the baseball coach. The kid thought Montclair State was, as they used to say, “all that and a bag of chips” and he asked the coach what New Jersey school had the best sports program (expecting Montclair to be the answer). The coach said, without hesitation, it was Princeton. I’d say it might still be the best. If you look at winning and championships - and who here doesn’t? - Princeton does it pretty well.
I know, it’s just the Ivy League. But that’s where they are. And they also do very well on the national scene.
It has been a long time since Rutgers men’s hoops was relevant on the national scene...maybe even the New Jersey scene. But we are all hopeful that we’re finally on the right track with new leadership both on the bench and in the administrative offices. But there is still the issue of competing against other New Jersey schools - of which we haven’t done very much lately. And it’s something our Aaron Breitman discussed recently, too.
We don’t play Princeton. We don’t play Monmouth. Is that good or bad? Right now, based on their records, it might be a good thing. Let’s hope for even better things in the future. And while we’re at it, let’s look to commit to more New Jersey non-con games.
The glass - or pool - is half full
Rutgers does have swimming and diving. For women. Maybe there aren’t enough good male swimmers from, or willing to come to, New Jersey to compete. Nah.
- Seton Hall only had four New Jerseyans on its team out of 23. Five, though, were foreign-born (six if you count the kid from Texas). Recruiting.
- At Rider, 11 of the 22 team members were from the Garden State. With two Texans.
- There were 14 from New Jersey swimming for NJIT’s Highlanders on a team of 23. Five were foreign-born. Recruiting.
Side Note....just for fun
Penn State’s men’s swimming roster of 17 includes three New Jerseyans and five foreign-born athletes.
It ain’t just Princeton
If you want to talk about a program that is pretty good at a pretty good level (I know, it isn’t the Big Ten) look no further than West Long Branch. Previously in the Northeast Conference, the Monmouth Hawks have continued to perform well in their new home, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC).
It’s ironic that two of those sports listed are also among Rutgers’ best. Yet, maybe because of the conference or maybe something else, other schools win titles while Rutgers settles for what it can get.
Let’s be clear: despite what it may look like, this really isn’t a dump on Rutgers post. If anything, it’s a dump on the past leadership at Rutgers and - again - a call to action for the current ones in those positions. New Jersey teams do win conference titles. They do make the NCAA tournaments. New Jersey athletes can and do perform at high levels. But, as noted for several of the teams noted here, it isn’t always about getting New Jersey kids, but about getting the best kids. It’s about recruiting and coaching.
Among the six conferences that New Jersey schools play in, there is no question that the Big Ten is the toughest. It is a top level conference in virtually every sport so Rutgers, in a way, faces the toughest road among any of the eight D1 schools. But we wanted to be here. We were ecstatic to be here. You rise to the level of the competition, right?
So, Mr. Hobbs, are we here to win or to get a participation trophy?