Along with the Maryland Terrapins, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten in 2014 as the conference’s 13th and 14th members. When the pair -- which were not football powers by any means at the time -- joined the conference, supporters cited the opportunities to break into new television markets (e.g., Washington D.C. and New York City) as well as the chance to gain crucial recruiting territory -- especially the traditionally fertile ground of New Jersey. On the flip side, critics looked to the fact that Maryland and Rutgers, frankly, are kind of far from the rest of the Big Ten (Penn State notwithstanding). Then there was the aforementioned point of neither being a strong football power.
Since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten conference, the newcomers have not found a lot of success on the football field. Including their inaugural season in-conference, Rutgers’ Big Ten records and bowl participation has been thus:
- 2014: 3-5 (Win over North Carolina in Quick Lane Bowl)
- 2015: 1-7 (No bowl, only conference win against Indiana)
- 2016: 0-9 (No bowl)
- 2017: 3-6 (No bowl)
- 2018: 0-9 (No bowl)
It’s true that Rutgers, like Maryland, has to compete against Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State year in and year out in the Big Ten East. While Maryland has generally been a contender, able to put together competitive games, including against Ohio State in 2018, Rutgers hasn’t been quite so successful. Given the easy comparison with Maryland, which has also found success for both men and women on the basketball court and lacrosse field, and Rutgers doesn’t seem to have a lot of value add for its new conference.
Realistically, though, the question is not about if Rutgers being in the Big Ten is good for Rutgers, but rather if Rutgers being in the Big Ten is good for the Big Ten. While some metrics go hand-in-hand (Rutgers winning regular season non-conference games, qualifying for bowl games and winning bowl games is good for both sides), others are neutral for the Scarlet Knights. The key area where this relationship is most evident is in recruiting.
On the current roster, Ohio State has five players from New Jersey and five from New York. Chief among this group are linebacker Jordan Fuller, tight end Jeremy Ruckert and backup quarterback Chris Chuganov.
In the incoming recruiting class, center Luke Wypler -- the top center in the nation and top-ranked player in the state of New Jersey -- is committed to the Buckeyes. Along with Wypler is four-star outside linebacker Cody Simon, the No. 3 recruit in New Jersey. While Ryan Day, and Urban Meyer before him, is a talented recruiter on his own, it’s hard to say if Ohio State as a program would be able to get two of a state’s top-three recruits without having a conference footprint in the state.
If Ohio State were not as innately involved in recruiting in New Jersey, players would likely be drawn to former Big East schools in the ACC, like Syracuse, Pitt or even Miami (way back in the day), other ACC schools or, for lower-rated or less-known players, MAC or American schools. Now, the Buckeyes travel to Piscataway every other year and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, meaning local athletes will come face-to-face with one of the top programs in the country on a frequent enough basis to be meaningful. The rest of the Big Ten East has a similar argument, though probably not as strong for Indiana (sorry, Hoosiers).
Further, by having a recruiting footprint in New Jersey, by virtue of the presence of a fellow conference member in the region, Ohio State has an opportunity to tap into local athletes. As mentioned previously, Ryan Day and company will be in New Jersey regularly and can evaluate athletes in-person from a high level. That means even under-the-radar players have a chance at being recruited by the Buckeyes, since they will have greater visibility with Ohio State’s recruiting staff.
In the end, joining the Big Ten hasn’t been great for Rutgers on the field. But Rutgers joining the Big Ten may just turn out to be good for the conference. Maybe.