Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably seen, heard or read a story about Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney’s sudden infatuation with the east coast lately. Most of those stories revolve around the conference basketball tournament, but there is also the recent additions of Rutgers and Maryland who will begin Big Ten conference play this fall.
Most Big Ten fans were in agreement that the two schools would have little-to-no impact on the Big Ten’s two money making sports — football and basketball. I personally disagreed right out the gate due to Maryland’s history and pedigree in college basketball.
Nobody, however, seems to be saying or thinking much at all about the presence of Rutgers football in the Big Ten’s new East Division. In fact, I’ve watch friends of mine who are fans of Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin roll their eyes when the subject of Rutgers playing Big Ten football came up.
To steal Lee Corso’s famous line — NOT SO FAST, MY FRIEND.
The fact of the matter is that Rutgers Football is a bit of a sleeping giant with the capability of offsetting some of the competitive balance in the conference forever.
Let’s start with locale. Rutgers is in the shadow of the largest metropolitan area in the country and smack-dab in the middle of the I-95 corridor in the mid-atlantic. They are within a four hour drive of more potential recruits than any of the current 12 Big Ten schools.
Now let’s think about why kids accept full scholarships at Division 1A schools to begin with. It’s not for the free tuition, I can promise you that. You show me a Division 1A school in almost any state with a big time football program and I’ll show you a better school academically in most of those states that also has football.
Kids play big time college football because they want to be professionals. They want to go to the NFL. Rutgers has not historically played in conferences known for churning out tons of NFL talent. The Big East and the new American Athletic Conference were both known more for basketball than football while Rutgers was a member of each. But the Big Ten — yes — that’s a conference that churns out NFL talent.
Let’s take a look at the other 13 schools in the new Big Ten and see where they rank in terms of alumni currently on NFL rosters. These numbers include the most recent draftees and free agent signees. The current number of NFL players from each school are in parentheses.
1. Ohio State (48)
2. Wisconsin (37)
3. Iowa (34)
3. Penn State (34)
5. Nebraska (31)
6. Illinois (30)
6. Michigan (30)
8. Michigan State (26)
9. Maryland (22)
10. Purdue (20)
11. Northwestern (15)
12. Indiana (12)
13. Minnesota (7)
With the exception of Illinois, the top half of those rankings are the perennial big boys of the Big Ten. The Illini really are the only surprise when you consider that Michigan State might only be beginning their run. Everything else is about what you’d expect given the overall perceptions and prestige of the teams in the conference.
So, where does Rutgers fall? Just above Minnesota? Maybe right there with fellow newcomer Maryland?
The Scarlet Knights are actually tied with Illinois and Michigan with 30 former players currently in the NFL. For better or worse, you’ve heard of these guys: Ray Rice, Mohamed Sanu, Kenny Britt and The McCourty twins — just to name a few.
Now, there could be a few reasons for this. Maybe, despite playing in perceived weak football conferences, Rutgers was still able to recruit top notch talent that may have been overlooked. Maybe the Scarlet Knight program just does a hell of a job developing kids into NFL-caliber players.
Here’s a scary thought — What if both are happening? And here is perhaps an even scarier thought for some Big Ten teams: What if the two dozen or so New Jersey kids who are scattered throughout the Big Ten conference every year realize they can play Big Ten ball right there in their home state in the shadow of the Big Apple. What if their parents realize their kids can play against Ohio State and Michigan every year at a school only an hour or two drive away as opposed to nine or ten hours?
What if the future Shalique Calhouns of Middletown, New Jersey decide to stay home and build something special in their back yard?
Now I understand NFL talent alone doesn’t win games. But I’ve played sports. I’ve played football. You watch film. You hear predictions and see the scores and records. None of that matters once that guy in the uniform you’ve been scouting is lined up across from you. There is no film room — just the two players locking facemasks in several one-on-one battles around the field. How many of those battles can your team afford to be overmatched in?
You laughed and maybe scoffed when the Big Ten announced it was adding Rutgers. It will be interesting to see who is laughing in a few years.
The way I see it, there is a Scarlet storm about to move across the Big Ten from the east. The old guard of the Big Ten — players, fans, students and alum — better be ready.
BY J.P. SCOTT ON MAY 27, 2014
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