Today is my last day at On The Banks.
I apologize in advance as this is going to be a bit long, but saying goodbye after seven years here leaves me with a lot to say and a lot of people to thank.
It was May 2015 when I became a contributor for the site. I had read On The Banks for a couple of years and liked it very much. One day, I saw a post that they were looking for contributors. Former managing editor Tim Wentz responded to my inquiry and gave me the opportunity to join the team. I am so grateful that he did!
After about a week or so as luck would have it, Dave White decided to step away as the lead basketball writer after a few years in that role to focus on his career as an author writing the acclaimed Jackson Donne series (still going). I jumped at the opportunity. It gave me a real purpose and allowed me to find my voice as a writer with content I was comfortable covering.
Just three months later, the managing editor spot opened and I took a shot in applying. I had and still have a career outside of covering Rutgers sports, but taking over On The Banks felt like a chance to do something spontaneous and uniquely rewarding. I had zero experience as an editor and the only thing I’d done to that point was having written offseason hoops articles during that summer.
Thankfully, Matt Brown, the head of operations for SB Nation’s college network at the time and who now owns and operates a must read site called Extra Points, decided to offer me the job. He told me there was another candidate with actual experience but they decided to go with me because I was a real fan that cared about Rutgers. His decision changed a part of my life long term for the better and I’m forever grateful to him for that.
Before the first football season I ever covered for OTB had even kicked off, an investigation was underway of then head coach Kyle Flood. He allegedly broke Rutgers policy by pressuring a professor to change a player’s grade while going full “Fletch” mode in a meeting with them off campus. Details emerged and Flood admitted to the meeting. Soon after, five players were arrested the day before the season started as they were coming off the practice field due to their participation in a fight that happened months earlier.
A couple of weeks later, Flood was suspended as a result of the investigation as was star receiver Leonte Carroo after he allegedly got into a physical altercation with his girlfriend outside of the stadium. It occurred right after the stomach punch loss to Mike Leach and Washington State. I just so happened to be nearby where the incident occurred after the game. I remember having such a empty and depressed feeling about the state of program after that game and most of that season. It was stunning how quickly things had unraveled after Schiano had left and it was clear Flood wasn’t the answer.
Taking a step back, it’s crazy to now realize that I had literally been in charge of On The Banks for only a month after all of this had happened. I wasn’t just thrown into the fire, I was suddenly in the middle of natural disaster operating a position I had no clue about to begin with. Rutgers football was in full epic collapse and disaster mode. I was in borderline panic mode but I white knuckled my way through it. In the long run, that experience made me much more prepared for the years that followed and made me a more capable leader of this site.
The football team did fight valiantly during that lost season and the players deserved much better, but that group was unable to overcome all of the self-inflicted adversity off the field. RU finished 4-8 and on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, Flood and athletic director Julie Hermann were finally fired. It was a good day.
The turbulence of that first year continued because once football season ended, basketball began what turned out to be a disastrous last season of Eddie Jordan’s three year tenure as head coach. Rutgers won just seven games, the fewest in 28 years. The program had reached another low point and hope was in short supply.
Covering every loss took a toll on me mentally, but it taught me how to write more critically and objectively. There was no sugar to coat on loss after loss. I finally had enough and called for Jordan to be fired after the worst home loss in program history, a 50 point defeat to Purdue, on a night the Final Four team he led was honored. I loved the program, but the state of it was breaking my heart.
And then, everything changed.
Steve Pikiell arrived in April 2016 and Rutgers men’s basketball has been on the way up ever since. It’s been an amazing experience covering the rise of a program I rooted for as a kid. Having the opportunity to cover the team up close and see the development occur after so many disappointing seasons over the years has been so satisfying.
Fast forward and Rutgers Athletics as a whole is in such a better place than when I began at On The Banks. It’s honestly incredible and almost unbelievable. RU isn’t just in a different neighborhood, it’s in a different continent in regard to the progress made and current state of where the athletic department is. Pat Hobbs has long said his goal was to remove “long suffering” from the vocabulary of Rutgers fans and he’s delivered.
It’s amazing that I began my tenure at On The Banks in arguably the worst year in Rutgers athletics, at least in a very long time, which is saying something, to my time coming to an end right after the best year from an overall performance standpoint ever. It feels right.
I’m very grateful for all of the help, support and encouragement I’ve received along the way. I would never have been able to do this as long as I did without any of it.
To my SB Nation supervisors over the years, Matt Brown, Caroline Darney and Beth Maiman, thank you for being there when I needed help and for making me better.
To all of the former and current contributors at On The Banks, all of whom volunteered their personal time to create content for this site, thank you! Collaborating with other Rutgers fans who contributed content alongside myself, whether it was season previews, game week coverage, round tables, postseason coverage or even big picture stories, it was special.
Several former contributors have become sports media professionals after leaving OTB and that makes me proud too. Brian Fonseca is on the Rutgers beat for NJ.com. It feels like yesterday we were on the court of Madison Square Garden recapping the memorable Big Ten Tournament run for men’s hoops. Garrett Stepien headed to 247 Sports soon after my arrival but was ultimately joined by Nick Kosko, Matt Howe and Lance Glinn, all of whom were great at OTB and continue to be in their current roles.
A special thanks to Lance, who I brought on to develop a podcast for the site. He turned it into something far greater than I imagined it could be with the level of guests and content he created. I did my best to carry it on the last 50 or so episodes, but Lance set the standard.
I’ve worked the longest at the site with Dave White and David Anderson. Two intelligent, opinionated and passionate Rutgers people who have contributed greatly to On The Banks during my time here. I’m thankful they were as dedicated as they’ve been because their perspectives helped differentiate OTB from everywhere else. They made me look good and I had little to do with it.
Two people who have supported me more than anyone that I wanted to thank are my mother and my wife. My mom was a longtime English teacher and she’s helped me improve as a writer while also giving me great confidence that I belonged. My wife is a saint who has fully supported my participation in this crazy side hustle of a gig for so many years and edited plenty of my work too. She’s also become a Rutgers fan along the way, which has made it even sweeter.
My only goal I’ve ever had in running On The Banks was to grow our community for fans of all ages to come together based on a common love of all things Rutgers. The early days were a struggle, in part to the losing, but also because it was hard to find people who wanted to write about Rutgers, let alone read about them.
In the beginning, I couldn’t even get permission from Rutgers to use a photo for an Olympic sport. Now we have access to every program and are credentialed in football and men’s basketball. I never blamed the athletic department of being skeptical of a fan site back then. Respect is earned, not given. I’m proud of the relationships I’ve built through the years and in playing a small role in how much sports media has changed in recent years.
Over time our readership has multiplied exponentially. On The Banks has been a top 30 site traffic wise on the SB Nation college network out of 90+ sites for a few years now. OTB has had over 18 million pageviews with over 3 million unique visitors in my seven years as managing editor. Readers have clicked on an article from literally every country in the world, which blows my mind. When other fan bases joke that there aren’t many Rutgers fans, I always smile.
The most rewarding part of being in charge of On The Banks was experiencing the journey in following Rutgers sports along the way with so many fellow fans. If certain readers didn’t comment over a period of time, I worried something was wrong. When a big win happened, reading the comment section was a pleasure. After a bad loss, OTB was a place to commiserate together, even if arguments ensued at times. If something happened with Rutgers sports, we covered it and you the reader responded.
I made a point to focus on as many programs as possible not only because I cared about them, but because I knew you did too. And the numbers backed it up. Getting to know coaches and players of teams that weren’t playing a sport as high profile as football or basketball was rewarding too. I have gotten to see what the culture of Rutgers athletics is really like with covering so many programs. Every student-athlete at RU deserves support from the fan base and even if only a handful of people cared about a certain team, I wrote about them.
I’ve written thousands of articles over the years but there are a few that I remember the most. Analyzing the psychology of being a Rutgers fan with renowned sports psychologist Dr. Charlie Maher was enjoyable as was urging fans years ago to embrace the journey. Two deep dives that I wrote in 2022 that stick out to me all-time was my senior day feature on Geo Baker, Ron Harper Jr. and Caleb McConnell, as well as my profile on longtime men’s lacrosse head coach Brian Brecht ahead of the program’s first Final Four. There are plenty more I’m proud of and probably some I’ve even forgotten about.
I’ve covered three Finals Fours in total, including two from women’s soccer in addition to that program capturing the school’s first ever Big Ten regular season title last fall. Field Hockey’s ascension into an elite program and winning the Big Ten Tournament and earning the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament was remarkable to cover. Two national champions in wrestling in addition to multiple All-Americans year after year. C. Vivian Stringer earning her 1,000th victory was historic. Greg Schiano returning and Rutgers football gaining instant credibility because of it has been fun to witness, as well as several Big Ten wins early on. The win over Michigan State to mark his return was comic book material in such a good way.
As I have mentioned more than once in this article, covering men’s basketball has meant so much to me. The last three years in particular has been almost surreal. Covering the program’s first NCAA Tournament win in 38 years and the ultimate roller coaster ride this past season was incredible.
After some thought, my favorite article that I’ve ever written at On The Banks was in the aftermath of the loss to Houston in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. I’ll never get over that defeat just like many of you won’t either. Writing afterwards later that night was the hardest thing I had to do in my seven years. The postgame presser I attended was brutal. I was at a loss of words in front of my computer for what seemed like all night. I began to focus on how important that team was for so many reasons and what they taught us during what was the first year of COVID-19 when everyone’s life changed. I didn’t publish until about 2 am in the morning, which was not necessarily uncommon for me. However, I was numb from what happened and that article poured out of me in a way that I wasn’t even fully conscious of. I didn’t go to bed until 5 am, sober but dazed. Waking up to fans thanking me for connecting their feelings together through my writing was really something special. More people reached out to me about that article than any I ever wrote.
At the end of the day, giving fans a voice through my writing and helping a bit in handling a bad loss is what running On The Banks was all about for me. I took that responsibility seriously and I cherished it.
When I received complaints from various readers after a game that my writing wasn’t critical enough while also being told from others that I should have been more positive, I knew I hit the sweet spot in being balanced. I received plenty of criticism from readers over the years, some personal attacks and even bizarre and sometimes highly entertaining emails. There have been plenty of generously kind comments as well. I’ve also made mistakes along the way. But through it all, I tried to stay true to covering Rutgers in a professional way but through the perspective of a longtime fan, tortured but still positive. That’s what makes On The Banks different from any other outlet that covers Rutgers. Our outlook as a fan base and the contributors who bring that mentality with them in their writing.
And now it’s time for me to move on.
I’m happy to announce that Greg Patuto is the new managing editor of On The Banks. I am excited for him and believe he will elevate this site even more so in the years to come. I wish him and On The Banks nothing but the very best. This place will always be a part of me.
As for what comes next for me personally, I’ll announce that sometime soon. Today is about me giving thanks and appreciating the time I had here. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter at @aaron_breitman for updates and my current takes on anything and everything Rutgers.
Look at it this way. Rutgers football has had a losing season in all seven years I was managing editor, so it’s probably a good thing I’m leaving.
I’ll miss it and I’ll miss you. It’s the readers who truly make On The Banks special. Rutgers has a passionate and unique fan base, hang ups and paranoia included. Having a voice in the Rutgers community through On The Banks was the best.
Thank you all!