If you have ever attended a game at the Rutgers Athletic Center, better known as the RAC, you know it is a special place to watch a basketball game. Opened in 1977, the RAC is a relic compared to all its Big Ten counterpart arenas. With a capacity of just 8,000, the arena from outside looks like a truncated tent with trapezoidal sides.
This unique configuration puts fans close to the court and gives the opposition the impression that they are playing in front of 20,000 fans, instead of under half that amount. In its current configuration, the RAC is the smallest arena in the Big Ten Conference, less than 200 fewer seats than Northwestern’s new Welsh-Ryan arena. With Steve Pikiell leading the turnaround at Rutgers, fans have turned it into one of the best homecourt advantages in the country.
Last week, Rutgers announced that the first three games of the season were sell outs: November 10 vs. Lehigh, November 13 vs. Merrimack and November 16 vs. NJIT. With the Scarlet Knights entering the season with nine consecutive sell outs dating back to the 2019-2020 season, the streak now stands at a dozen. In addition, Big Ten games against Michigan on January 4, Maryland on January 25th, Michigan State on February 5, Wisconsin on February 26th and Penn State on March 6th have already been declared sell outs as well.
My personal memories of the RAC go way back. When the RAC first opened, I was in graduate school with most of my courses on the Livingston campus. I attended several games in that inaugural season, but the memory that stands out most was the Rutgers/Indiana State NIT game. Rutgers won but they had no answer for Larry Bird. Rutgers had won twenty-four games that season following the magical 1976 final four season, which at the time was not good enough to make the NCAA tournament. What I remember about that game is we had no answer for Larry Bird but won the game just the same.
I also went to some Nets games as the nomadic NBA team made a brief stop at the RAC, saw a few concerts, and watched a lot of great men’s and women’s basketball. That arena holds history and memories both good and bad, but as of late those memories have been decidedly good.
Last year, the RAC was silent and the Scarlet Knights like every other team playing during the global pandemic, had no fan base to feed off. Without fans in the stands, it evened things out for everyone. Still the Scarlet Knights went 10-4 at the RAC without any fans in the stands as the spirit of fans past no doubt played their role in sending out positive vibes.
The Scarlet Knights have gone 61-28 during the Pikiell era, going 18-1 in 2019-2020, the last season with fans in attendance. The RAC is a true homecourt advantage and I was conflicted when I previously read about potential plans to expand the venerable arena. I feel like a renovated RAC is overdue and would be beneficial, but would it still be the RAC?
But the RAC does not exist on an island. The RWJ Barnabas Health Athletic Performance Center takes a backseat to no collegiate training center in the country. Here is Steve Pikiell discussing the importance of the new training center to moving the Rutgers men’s basketball program forward.
Progress with facilities has coincided with progress on the court. After winning an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in 38 years, the program has sold over 5,000 season tickets for Pikiell’s sixth campaign on the banks. There are almost 1,000 new season ticket holders since the 2019-20 season. With eight games sold out already and the remaining ten only having a few hundred tickets still available, Rutgers is close to selling out the entire home schedule this season. Incredible.
As we look at the overall picture of Rutgers basketball facilities, it is a combination of the old and the new. But it is safe to say that most fans feel an affinity for the RAC. Like meeting up with an old friend or clinging to that old coat, torn and faded, but it still fits you like a glove. The RAC may not be all glitzy with all the new bells and whistles, but it is home.