The dog days of summer are officially here, as we are in the midst of the hottest three day stretch in years. With Big Ten Media Days now over and training camp a week and a half away from starting, the Rutgers football season is here. I think the combination of the extreme heat and the anxiety brought on due to the current state of the football team has released a lot of angst and insecurities from the fan base in recent months. Let’s examine.
I’ve been sensing the tenor changing more negatively as the summer has progressed, but the climax was on Friday when good news was actually interpreted as a tragedy by a significant portion of Scarlet Knight fans.
Rutgers announced a naming rights deal with SHI International Corp. and there is a lot to be happy about. Keith Sargeant reported the financial terms of the deal are about double the previous deal with Highpoint.com and will actually triple near the end of this new seven year contract. Whether you think 1.2 million to 1.8 million per year for naming rights is good or not, it’s hard to argue with doubling to tripling the previous contract. There is a notion that is important for Rutgers fan to apply to the entire state of the athletic department.
As Pat Hobbs, Sarah Baumgartner and the rest of their staff continue to raise every aspect of Rutgers Athletics to another level, it’s important to keep things in context. Rutgers was and has been on the bottom of the pile in many areas regarding college athletics for decades. Not just in the Big Ten, but in the country. A lack of support off the field helped breed a lack of success on it. If you’ve been paying attention, there are many positive things that have occurred or are in progress that signal real change for the better is taking place on the banks. Things aren’t going to go from 1 to 10 overnight. The important part is that steady progress is taking place.
Back to the naming rights. The point is Hobbs and team were able to procure a good deal with a very good company. SHI International Corp. is a female, minority owned company located in the backyard of the university and employs hundreds of Rutgers alumni. Oh and they are a 10 billion dollar plus company. What’s not to love about this deal?
Ok, I’ll admit when I first saw the news I was one of probably almost everyone who thought, “oh shi*, what is Rutgers doing?” The name SHI Stadium (pronounced S-H-I) certainly brings to mind a missing letter that spells a word that certainly brings a negative tone. As some have said, this was such a perfectly bad move that it is so Rutgers. However, I beg to differ and offer an alternative way to look at this situation.
People complaining that they can’t believe Hobbs and others didn’t realize this name would be a disaster or that the financial terms aren’t worth the name association crack me up. C’mon people, stop playing checkers and start playing chess. Rutgers needs money and got a lot more of it than they were getting. That’s a big positive. Turning down a good deal because the name will be the butt of jokes? That’s not good business sense.
Has this deal opened up Rutgers to becoming another punchline across social media? To a degree, yes, and old friend Brian Fonseca highlighted the fun that people across the college football landscape were having on twitter here. Will there be plenty more jokes made about the stadium name by the rest of the Big Ten in the years to come? Yes. Is that fact worth the outrage that some Rutgers fans feel towards this new name? Absolutely not. As one of my favorite movie characters, Jay Trotter, famously said....
Let Big Ten fan bases have their fun and talk their shi*. Because guess what, if it’s not this, it will be something else. The fact is once Rutgers starts winning, and I believe it will eventually happen, none of that will matter. They make fun of Rutgers because of the losing and because of some previous scandals and missteps that have occurred. IWin and it all goes away. The name of the stadium doesn’t change the past or dictate the future.
If Rutgers fans want to categorize this naming rights deal as a misstep in Hobbs’ tenure, I simply say get a hold of yourself. Put things in perspective. The athletic department has a steep climb towards respectability and while there is still a long way to go, the trajectory has been pointing up at a slow and steady climb for a couple of years now.
The reality is we as Rutgers fans have suffered quite a bit over the years and especially this past decade. Basketball coaches have gotten fired for tantrums at baseball games, throwing basketballs at players and calling them inappropriate names, to losing in epic fashion and refusing to teach basic fundamentals. Football has seen a coach who dressed in a terrible disguise and failed to uphold the values that are important to any respectable institution. Rutgers went through three athletic directors in six years, each having left some positive developments behind them, but also some level of turmoil as well. Now Pat Hobbs hasn’t been perfect, but he has come on and steered the department in a direction that is the right one in order to compete in the Big Ten.
Is football in as bad a place it’s been in almost two decades entering this season? Absolutely. Is Rutgers considered a laughingstock in the Big Ten right now because of it? Yes it is. Does Hobbs need to fix it, either with Ash or finding the right replacement? You know the answer.
My point is as Rutgers fans we need to embrace it all. We are an embattled fan base that frankly I view as tougher than most around college athletics. We are better than letting a silly four letter word association spell disaster and lead us to believe Rutgers is never going to recover from jokes about it. Partnering with companies like SHI International Corp are exactly the type that Rutgers should be associating with. The previous deal with RWJBarnabas signaled a positive change in the approach of the university because it finally recognized the great potential there is in developing these type of relationships. Rutgers fans should take comfort in this, as it shows vision and purpose within the athletic department and administration that hasn’t always existed. Without that, hope would be lost.
I’ve written before about embracing the journey as Rutgers builds itself up in the Big Ten, as well as embracing the hate of other fan bases as the build continues. Now it’s time to embrace who we are and see the good news when it’s there, even if there are jokes that come with it. We may be battle weary, but I truly believe the long winter is behind us in regard to the management of the athletic department in avoiding unacceptable scandals and missteps. There are more reasons to be hopeful across more sports at Rutgers than there has been in a long time. This naming rights deal is another example of positive change happening within the athletic department. Be happy, not bitter about jokes made by immature or negative people.
Is football looking at rough sledding ahead this season? Probably, so with that I say prepare to batten down the hatches with the fall coming. Let’s stick together as a fan base and remember we’ve been through a lot over the years. It’s our badge of honor, or perhaps, our scarlet letter. Stay proud and remember it’s a good thing to laugh too, even if it’s at our own expense sometimes. It’s good to be angry and argue during rough times, healthy in fact, but don’t lose your sense of humor either. Hopefully, football will give us some happy moments this season and show significant improvement.
And as far as what other people say or think about Rutgers? Who gives a shi*! Better days are already here, in part because it was so dark for many years. More work is to be done before truly good one’s are the norm. That’s okay. Until then, embrace the journey, embrace the hate, and embrace being Rutgers fans, the good and the bad. Accept the jokes along the way, because I believe we’ll be the one’s laughing at the haters soon enough.