Tuesday, March 6, 2007

In My Opinion: Rutgers Rival

(Editor's Note: This post, titled 'In my Opinion', will be done (mostly) by the student assistants in the Athletic Communications office. These topics will be diverse and hopefully the columns will be though provoking, and if nothing else, a little escape from your daily grind. In this case, below, it's a long escape.)

With the highly publicized BIG EAST Women’s Basketball Championship coming down to Rutgers and Connecticut on Tuesday night, it led to me thinking about the rivalry that has emerged between the two schools in women’s basketball. Rutgers and UConn have been bitter rivals on the hardwood for years, and over the last few seasons the BIG EAST regular season and tournament titles have seen them square off in very meaningful games. However, while no one doubts that UConn is Rutgers’ biggest rival in women’s basketball, it brings up the question of who is the Scarlet Knights’ biggest rival overall? Although RU may have one or two rivals in a specific sport it’s an interesting debate as to whether an overall rival exists.

Here is a a look at the possible candidates:

Princeton is by-far the oldest rival of Rutgers, but over the last 20-30 years the two schools have gone in different directions. Although the Scarlet Knights still face off against the Tigers annually in many sports, the two teams have not played in football since 1980. Also, since the Tigers are a part of the Ivy League, they (like Rutgers) have developed some of their own conference rivalries. Rutgers plays many BIG EAST schools more than once a year in each sport, battling with them to finish higher in the standings, which gives these relationships more impact and more fire. Although, Rutgers and Princeton will always be remembered for playing in the first ever college football game, it is hard to justify the Tigers being RU’s biggest rival in this day and age.

The BIG EAST Schools
Although the Scarlet Knights have played some meaningful games against BIG EAST newcomers Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida, the lack of history and geographical locations of the schools makes it hard to justify them as being a rival to Rutgers. Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Providence, Villanova and West Virginia are schools that Rutgers has played against since joining the BIG EAST, but none of them have truly developed into a strong rival for Rutgers based on location or the fact that they have their own previously developed rivalries. Although St. John’s can make a case to be Rutgers rival because of their close location to RU, the Red Storm does not field a football team and has never developed a true history with the Scarlet Knights. Notre Dame has also played Rutgers consistently since joining the BIG EAST, but they developed their own rivalries well before joining the conference and, like the other schools mentioned, lack a true history with RU in all sports.

However, there are three BIG EAST schools that do seem to fit the mold of a rival for Rutgers – Seton Hall, Syracuse and Connecticut.

Seton Hall
Seton Hall is a logical candidate because it’s located in New Jersey and compete in the BIG EAST. The Pirates play the Scarlet Knights at least three times a year in basketball (combining both men’s and women’s) with the men’s home game against the Pirates being arguably the most important game of the year for Rutgers fans. There is no other team that fans get more joy out of beating than Seton Hall, and I think that the same can be said of how many Pirate fans feel about beating RU. The Pirates have also been playing Rutgers in men’s basketball since 1916, and the two teams have been extremely competitive over the last six years with Seton Hall holding a slight 8-7 edge. Outside of basketball, the Pirates also face off against the Scarlet Knights in every other sport in which they both compete in the BIG EAST. However, with Rutgers gaining national acclaim because of football, it is hard to say that a school that does not have a football team can be RU's overall rival. This is where the other BIG EAST football schools come in.

The Orange have always had a tough time coming down to New Jersey to face RU, especially in men’s basketball where Rutgers has taken four out of the last seven games at the RAC. Even back when RU was struggling in football, they still had a little extra something when Syracuse came to town. Most notably when Rutgers beat the Orange for RU’s only win in 1999 or when the Scarlet Knights closed out the 2003 season with a 24-7 win over the Orange for only their second BIG EAST win of the year. The two schools often recruit the same athletes and have been competing against each other in several sports, including lacrosse, since the early 20th century. However, Syracuse’s athletic identity as one of the original BIG EAST members makes it more natural to have a rivalry with Georgetown because of their basketball history together. While Rutgers’ history with Syracuse lacks that of other schools, the next few years will decide whether 'Cuse is another BIG EAST foe or a true RU rival.

UConn has the location to be Rutgers’ rival as the two schools are located only a few hours apart. The Huskies are already seen as RU’s biggest foe in women’s basketball as stated above and the Huskies and Scarlet Knights have also developed a close rivalry in football over the past four seasons. The fact that the two schools are state universities on the east coast also leads to many of the same athletes looking at both schools when it comes to recruiting and the two schools have been consistently competitive in athletics over the last ten years in most sports. It also doesn’t hurt that the fans of both schools show a deep disdain for each other as evidenced on many online message boards where both sides constantly insult each other (or so I have heard from many friends). Over the next few years look for the two to remain competitive overall and develop a real rivalry that will be acknowledged on a national basis.