Column:Na Na Hey Hey
Published: Thursday, January 23, 2014
Updated: Thursday, January 23, 2014 23:01
Since the dissolving of the ‘old’ Big East, UConn has had to say goodbye to some of its traditional rivals from the conference.
Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame and Georgetown are already gone. Louisville and Rutgers are on their ways out, too. So on the day before the UConn men’s basketball team pays its final visit to the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J. for the foreseeable future, I would like to bid the Scarlet Knights adieu and wish them the best of luck in the Big Ten. They will need it.
First, some full disclosure: I’m a Jersey guy. Growing up, I saw the logos of that mighty cavalier clad in crimson and the capitalized ‘R’ all over the state. Rutgers represented New Jersey and the Scarlet Knights represented Jersey’s collegiate sports. I thought I was destined to attend the school since that was the only college I really knew about.
But red has never really been my color, and my eventual distaste for the institution closed that door permanently. I had my heart set on UConn and I came to Storrs, my happy place. But that Jersey tie with Rutgers has never totally gone away.
A lot of my friends, including most of my high school classmates, go there, and my cousin received his undergraduate degree from Rutgers as well. So naturally, the trash talks between some of us are continual.
Two seasons ago, I traveled back to the Garden State for UConn’s football game against the then-No. 22 Rutgers. Amid red and black dots in the stands, and chants of ‘R-U-Rah-Rah!’ I watched the Scarlet Knights’ Jawan Jamison run all over the Huskies for 110 yards to lead his team to a 19-3 victory.
Of course, my friends let me hear about it and I took it in stride as I do with most trash talking. After all, that’s what rivalries are all about, right?
Okay, maybe you can argue that the UConn-Rutgers rivalry – apart from women’s basketball years ago – never panned out like the fans expected it to, but Rutgers was still a decent enough school to provide some excitement in conference play.
Until recently, Rutgers football had been picked consistently as a contender in the Big East and has also produced NFL talents like Ray Rice, Brian Leonard, Mohamed Sanu and Devin and Jason McCourty, to name a few.
Yet in the Scarlet Knights’ illustrious history of 145 years in college football, they have won conference titles just four times. Three while they were in Division III’s Middle Atlantic Conference and just one since they joined the Big East in 1991.
But instead of taking advantage of the old Big East or the new and weaker American Athletic Conference where they could still chase after conference titles and major bowl games, the Scarlet Knights will jump to the Big Ten next season.
Rutgers is apparently willing to sacrifice those easier chances, and instead run the risk of getting stomped on week in and week out by schools like Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin, all for some extra TV money, the driving force behind all conference realignments. And let’s face it, if they can lose to a 1-9 UConn football team this year, could they possible have any success in the Big Ten? If Rutgers feels like it can compete as Big Ten football school, then good luck, knock yourself out.
Basketball will be an even greater challenge. The entire program has been in free fall since the Mike Rice fiasco.
Rice, former head coach of the men’s basketball team, was fired for verbally abusing his players. As a result, former athletic director Tim Pernetti stepped down and Rutgers replaced him with Julie Hermann, who was accused of verbally abusing players herself in her days as Tennessee’s volleyball coach.
Hermann then hired Eddie Jordan – the former Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach who also attended Rutgers – as Rice’s replacement, only to find out Jordan never received his degree from the institution.
The entire saga baffled me completely, as Rutgers went from that prestigious school that once captivated me, to the laughingstock of Division I.
Sure, money talks and the prestige of the power conferences is seductive. I’ll be honest, I wish UConn could’ve gotten into one of those conferences as well, but I would’ve also preferred to just keep the old Big East intact.
So when I leave the RAC after covering this Saturday’s game, likely the last time I’ll ever step foot onto that campus, I won’t miss the “R-U” chants and the Scarlet Knights like I miss the Orange, the Hoyas and the Fighting Irish. It will simply mark the end of a connection UConn and I once shared with my home state that could’ve developed into so much more.