With the announcement on Tuesday afternoon that the 2020 fall sports season has been postponed by the Big Ten, I wanted to pause and process the actual reality of that news. You can read our posts on the Big Ten’s decision and Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs’s statement here and here. If you want more analysis on what this mean’s moving forward, I’ll have more coverage in that regard soon. However, as a fan first, it’s time to acknowledge that part first.
I’m not writing to debate whether it was the right decision or not, although for the record I think that it was. I’m not writing to debate politics, nor to discuss how the country has dealt with COVID-19. Medical opinions, amateur or not, save it. And most importantly, save the stupidest angle I’ve seen across social media the past few day in that some think sports writers actually reported in a certain way because they wanted college sports cancelled this fall.
The only thing I will say regarding the reality of the world with COVID-19 is that sports can never compare to the personal well being of any person and their respective family. So for anyone that has suffered in any way during this global pandemic, whether it being with physical or mental health, employment or your career, personal finances, or even just general angst or sadness, my heart goes out to you.
When this new reality began, I described how going through such a scary time without the comfort of having the teams and school that I had rooted for nearly my entire life as part of my day to day made everything so much harder to deal with. Five months later, it’s only getting harder.
For any Big Ten fan, the news of being without sports this fall is a crushing blow during a time when it feels the weight of the world gets heavier by the day.
As a Rutgers fan, it’s like getting on the same ride time and time again, then walking off with a different terrible result from the one before.
This global pandemic began by ending the most successful men’s basketball season in decades. Rutgers fans were literally starving for success and finally found it in Steve Pikiell’s fourth campaign at the helm. Not only did they exceed expectations this past season with the first 20 win campaign in 37 years, it was done by arguably the most likable and easy to root for team at Rutgers in any sport in a very, very long time. And like the ending of the Sopranos, it was over in a flash and our vision of March Madness faded to black in an instant.
And now, instead of being knee deep in season preview articles surrounding Greg Schiano’s second tenure at Rutgers after the fan base came together like never before to help bring him back to the banks, the season is over before it even began. To be honest, it’s probably a blessing from a win-loss perspective and short term perception of the program in Schiano’s return. A 10 game conference only schedule with zero practices since his return and the team just coming off a program wide quarantine due to a COVID-19 outbreak certainly were less than ideal circumstances to be heading onto the field of battle in arguably the toughest division in college football.
Even so, the excitement and hope that Schiano’s December hire brought to a fan base still recovering from the eight years prior that produced pain and heartache courtesy of Kyle Flood and Chris Ash seems like a cruel dream. Of course, this is temporary and now this break gives Schiano even more time to rebuild the roster and culture within the program. For fans though, it’s not an easy pill to swallow in the short term.
Look a little deeper and you’ll feel awful for the women’s soccer team, who were stacked with talent and experience to have a tremendous fall season at Yurcak Field. Field Hockey and men’s soccer both were nationally ranked last season while looking to take steps forward this fall. The new era desperately needed with volleyball and new coach Caitlin Schweihofer will wait even longer.
It seems unlikely at this point that the Big Ten will hold any competitions before the calendar turns to 2021, although the league stopped short of making that announcement. My point though is that after writing a month ago that this global pandemic could come full circle and impact another Rutgers men’s basketball season, one in which could belong to the best team the program has had since the Final Four squad in 1976, it seems even more likely now. Kiss goodbye the idea of the RAC being full of fans this winter, let’s just hope the NCAA and league comes up with a plan to give this team an opportunity to play.
Scott Goodale has been steadily building the best top to bottom lineup the wrestling program has probably ever had in his decade plus in charge. Former national champion Nick Suriano is enrolled and waiting to decide on if he will jump back onto the mat at the RAC or go for Olympic gold instead. Will he even have a decision to make? Wrestling seems an even bigger medical issue compared to football in relation to COVID-19.
C. Vivian Stringer welcomes a top ten recruiting class and has a roster led by First Team All-Big Ten performer Arella Guirantes. Will her team have a chance to produce it’s best performance in the conference since joining and make another deep NCAA Tourney run for their Hall of Fame coach?
My real point is this: Rutgers fans have endured and endured and endured over the years. Finally, hope isn’t any longer a mythical idea or diagnosis of insanity. It’s real and legitimate. In the Big Ten no less.
Athletic Director Pat Hobbs has directed a facilities facelift never seen at Rutgers before. The right coaches are in place in many Olympic sports and the high profile, department defining teams like football, both basketball teams and wrestling are poised for either success or a revival after many dark years. And yet, here we are on hold and complete uncertainty of how the next year or so will play out.
Even so, it’s better than the alternative. May we never forget, yet never suffer through the days of Littlepage, Shea, every basketball coach from after Wenzel to before Pikiell, the Julie Hermann debacle, the embarrassment that Flood brought, as well as the disconnect and epic losing of Chris Ash in recent years.
What haven’t Rutgers fans been through? A fall season and quite possibly a winter season cancelled because of a global pandemic? Add it to the list. Better days are certainly ahead, but it’s hard to wonder how long the wait will really be.