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Athletics Make a Difference: Rutgers up to No. 40 in USNews College Rankings

As athletics improves so do academics, Rutgers is proof.

2020 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Rutgers was seen as a prestigious university — and it even almost joined the Ivy League at one point. Over the years, Rutgers has fallen from that status as more great colleges around the country formed and improved. That’s not to say Rutgers is not a great college anymore, just that it is not as prestigious an institution as it was in the early days of higher education in this country.

This year though, Rutgers ranks as the 40th best school in the country, according to the USNews college rankings and the 15th best public school. This is up 15 spots from last year’s ranking of 55, and up a whopping 29 spots from where Rutgers was ranked just 10 years ago in 2014.



There are likely many reasons why Rutgers took a jump in the rankings this year, but an improvement in athletics is a big one. Yes, US News slightly changed the way they ranked colleges for this year, but I’d venture to say that RU would’ve taken this jump anyway.

An article from the Washington Post in 2017 showed that since Nick Saban took over at Alabama, admissions have steadily risen from under 20,000 applicants to almost 40,000 in 10 years. Why? Because the football team won five titles during that span. A lot of college applicants want to go to a school with good sports, it’s simple.

After upsetting Alabama in the 2017 Iron Bowl, Auburn saw a 21% spike in admissions that next cycle. While the admissions office changed its marketing a bit that year, the interim dean said there was another factor that likely played into the spike, “We did have a better-than-average football season” she told the Washington Post.

This leads me back to Rutgers. While the Scarlet Knights haven’t beaten Alabama or gone to a national championship anytime recently, the athletic department has steadily been on the rise since Pat Hobbs took over as athletic director.

Rutgers sports have clearly improved across the board in the last decade, with both lacrosse and soccer teams making multiple trips to their respective NCAA Tournaments, the baseball team being better than ever, the basketball team making back-to-back trips to March Madness, and an NIT appearance. The field hockey team is consistently ranked among the top 10 in the country.

Most of that wouldn’t be the case if Rutgers hadn’t joined the Big Ten in 2014, and in my opinion, that was the most important moment for not just the athletics programs, but the university as a whole in this century. It has improved the entire college drastically.

Almost 10,000 more students applied to Rutgers last year compared to 2013, the year before Rutgers joined the Big Ten. There was a 3,000-applicant jump between 2017 and 2018 for the university, coincidentally, in the spring of 2018, Steve Pikiell’s basketball team made a big jump, going 14-17 and winning seven Big Ten games, four more than ever before.

Clearly, better sports teams attract more students, the more students that apply, the better students you have to choose from, and more of those “better students” attend. As Rutgers’ sports teams continue to improve, admissions will continue to rise, and the university will continue to be more highly regarded.

So for all the Rutgers fans who wanted to cut football, stay out of the Big Ten, or focus solely on academics because it was in the best interest of the university, you’re wrong. Good athletics makes for better students and a better university, and Rutgers should only continue to prove that over the next decade.