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Football Scheduling: how and why would Rutgers choose non-con games?

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The Big Ten wants nine games and better OOC opponents. So how and who do you schedule?

Rutgers v Syracuse Photo by Nate Shron/Getty Images

Why play Syracuse?

On Thursday, Rutgers announced that a home-and-home series with the Orange would be played in 2020 and 2021. It replaced a similar series Rutgers had agreed to play with UCLA, and it cost RU $500,000 to exit the deal.

As our Aaron Breitman wrote, The move seemed to continue the new trend by Chris Ash and Rutgers to forgo the “exotic” west coast games against the likes of Washington, Washington State, and Fresno State in favor of former - and in the case of Syracuse, Boston College, and Temple former Big East - foes from the region. For some, like alums on the Left Coast, that was disappointing:

I was one of the people disappointed by the switch

I had UCLA marked on my calendar for years. With UCLA gone, now the non-conference opponents I plan to visit are BC, Virginia Tech, and Temple (only because it is close).

Posted by patelj27b on Feb 2, 2018

This blows man!

Looking forward to playing and seeing a new opponent that we normally don’t get to play annually, and even considered going out West also to make a mini-vaca out of it. Now all of that out the window! This sucks sucks sucks!!!

As if didn’t we have enough of playing crappy Syracuse football all those years??? Ssnoooozefest playing Syracuse.

Posted by ign1 on Feb 2, 2018

Well, scheduling is an art, not a science, and meeting everyone’s wants and desires just isn’t going to happen. But, there are those who aren’t completely upset about the change:

Wow, we aren’t leaving the eastern time zone for an OOC game for many years. I enjoyed watching the West Coast RU games but this makes perfect sense for now.

Once/if we start going bowling again consistently, we can reassess the situation.

Posted by WestCoast_RU on Feb 2, 2018

The eastern time zone. It’s where Rutgers is located, and for most of its 149 years of playing football, it was where it played the vast, va-a-ast majority of its games. A-a-a-and you knew I would figure out how to include some history in this, didn’t you?

It was Joe Paterno who had envisioned an eastern football - if not an all sports - conference and who Rutgers was willing to follow. RU eschewed the Big East and then watched the “leader” of the eastern pack - Penn State - take care of itself by joining the Big Ten.

And that Penn State connection may have moved the needle on the Orange and the Scarlet meeting two years from now. Eight years ago, PSU and SU announced a three-game series: one at MetLife and then a home-and-home in 2020 and 2021. But three years ago, it was reported by John Cassillo of NunesMagician.com that the plan to play those two games was off.

Looks like somebody needed a couple of non-con games in 2020 and ‘21.

The relationship between Penn State and Syracuse is long but not necessarily joyful and glorious. From a New York Times article come a bunch of “fun” anecdotes about the two teams:

  • There was a bench-clearing brawl in 1953. Penn State won, 20-14 at home.
  • There was controversy in 1958 when a Syracuse law school graduate and Syracuse resident was part of the officiating crew that penalized Penn State eight times to the Orange’s one. Syracuse won, 14-6 at Penn State.
  • Paterno’s wife, Sue, and other coaches’ wives splashed orange paint on the limestone Nittany Lion shrine before the 1966 game to fire up students. Syracuse won, 12-10 at University Park.

And the proverbial straw that broke the Orange’s patience (to mix metaphors) was after the 1990 season with Penn State demanding a 6-4 split of games in a ten-year contract, with the larger number being in Happy Valley. Syracuse’s AD Jake Crouthamel in essence told Paterno to go pound salt. “Joe didn’t think very highly of me, and that may be putting it mildly,” Crouthamel said in a telephone interview. “And as a result, I didn’t think very highly of Joe and what he was demanding.”

When Syracuse and BC headed for the ACC (as BC was stating its absolute loyalty to the fading Big East), then-Rutgers Athletic Director Bob Mulcahy vowed Rutgers would never play BC as long as he was AD. But Mulcahy...and then Tim Pernetti...and then Julie Hermann have left. And now we’re playing both of those schools.

Scheduling philosophy changes over time, based on a lot of reasons: need for recruiting opportunities, need for wins, need for money. In the early Schiano years, some opponents were already on the schedule from earlier contracts. Eventually, Schiano and Mulcahy were able to plug in opponents they felt were right. Here are the non-conference teams beginning in year three of the Schiano Era; what would today be P5 schools are in bold:

2003: Buffalo, Michigan State, Army, Navy, UConn

2004: Michigan State, New Hampshire, Kent State, Vanderbilt, Navy

2005: Illinois, Villanova, Buffalo, Navy

2006: North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, Howard, Navy

2007: Buffalo, Navy, Norfolk State, Maryland, Army

2008: Fresno State, North Carolina, Navy, Morgan State, Army

2009: Howard, FIU, Maryland, Texas Southern, Army

2010: Norfolk State, FIU, North Carolina, Tulane, Army

2011: NC Central, North Carolina, Ohio, Navy, Army

Maybe what was even stranger, was when Rutgers decided to go “bigger time” without the proper foundation, facilities, or funding. The schedule had been filled with Ivies and smaller eastern independents. Suddenly there were schools being plugged into the schedule that were, to say the least, foreign to Rutgers. Here’s the start of that era under legendary coach Frank Burns. Recall there was no conference affiliation; what today are FBS schools are in bold:

1973: Lehigh, Princeton, UMass, Lafayette, Delaware, Columbia, Connecticut, Air Force, Holy Cross, Colgate, Tampa

1974: Bucknell, Princeton, Harvard, Lehigh, William & Mary, Air Force, Connecticut, Lafayette, Boston University, Colgate, Hawai’i

1975: Bucknell, Princeton, Hawai’i, Lehigh, William & Mary, Columbia, Connecticut, Lafayette, Boston University, Colgate, Syracuse

1976: Navy, Bucknell, Princeton, Cornell, Connecticut, Lehigh, Columbia, UMass, Louisville, Tulane, Colgate

1977: Penn State, Colgate, Bucknell, Princeton, Cornell, Connecticut, Lehigh, William & Mary, Temple, Tulane, Boston University

We’ll stop there. You can see that as Rutgers tried - badly, by the way - to “upgrade” the program, it created some weird schedules in the early days.

So, Syracuse (I really hate using ‘Cuse; like I hate ‘Stros for the Astros; is it that hard to say the letter A?). We’re playing them. I’m not opposed to it. Let’s win those games, though. The FCS schools are disappearing from Rutgers’ schedule; the strength of schedule is getting better. I admit that I have referred to the Carrier Dome as a blimp hangar, and playing the Orange isn’t as sexy as UCLA in the Rose Bowl. But it does allow our fans and their fans to travel a lot less in order to watch a road game. And maybe, in the big picture, that’s okay.