By Kristian Dyer
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Even though Rutgers just completed the program’s most impressive season since 2006, there is a likelihood that the Scarlet Knights, despite being bowl eligible, will not be heading to the postseason. And it might well be because Penn State, which had its sanctions lifted in the middle of season, is going to be heading to the Bronx.
The Big Ten needs to step in and make sure this doesn’t happen.
It means that Jim Delaney, who traditionally hasn’t lobbied for bowl placements for his schools, needs to work the phones and make sure the deserving team makes it.
Expectations were low around Rutgers just four months ago, ahead of its first season in the Big Ten. But an impressive season-opening win on the road over Washington State was followed up by other impressive wins over Navy, Michigan, Indiana and Maryland.
But despite a surprising 7-5 record, including three conference wins, Rutgers might be shut out of a bowl game. Yet Penn State, which has a worse record, will likely end up at the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
The logic to that is sad yet familiar.
It boils down to money and the perception that Rutgers as a program won’t travel well. This despite strong crowds and consistently selling out its allotment of tickets bowl after bowl.
Bowl games are supposed to be about the student-athletes and not just money, so a conference that prides itself on integrity, clarity and fair-play needs to step-in. The Big Ten can’t let the better team on paper sit home at the expense of tickets sold.
Penn State was sanctioned for a reason in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The student-athletes in that program had the chance to leave and some, like Silas Redd and Khairi Fortt, chose to transfer out. But the majority of that program’s players were recruited by Bill O’Brien and knew about the scholarship reductions and the bowl game ban. A bowl game wasn’t in the cards for the Nittany Lions during the early part of this season and just recently became a reality.
It makes no sense that Penn State, with a lesser overall record and inferior record both in conference and in the division, could go bowling and Rutgers may not.
It would be a blow to the Scarlet Knights, who did everything right, by the book and overachieved this season. Those seniors who deserve one more game. It would also be an affront to the conference as a whole should it choose dollars over the deserving.
The State College storyline about the program rising after scholarship reductions and bowl bans is nice stuff, but Penn State should not be handed a postseason opportunity at the expense of a Rutgers program that finished ahead of the Nittany Lions.
The idea that Penn State and Maryland, a 7-5 program that could also be deemed more deserving than Rutgers, might both go to the postseason is a black eye in the making for the Big Ten. The conference can’t let it go down this way and has to ensure a bowl placement for the better team. If it’s not in one of its bowl tie-ins then the conference needs to work the phones and lobby for another bowl to take Rutgers.
This means that Delaney needs to step out and take a proactive role in lobbying for Rutgers, a program that wasn’t supposed to be bowl eligible this season but still managed to make the state of New Jersey proud. It means that the Big Ten needs to step in and convince the Pinstripe Bowl that the Scarlet Knights are more deserving and can sell out their allotment for the game.
It is a matter of prestige for these schools, who would also benefit from the extra allotted practices allowed by the NCAA for all bowl teams. Without a postseason game, Rutgers will lose those extra 15 practices, which are a pivotal time for young players to improve and get snaps.
But it also means that a senior class that worked so hard to bring respect to Rutgers in its first season in a prestigious conference would be given the shaft by a conference that craved the program. Rutgers achieved solid attendance numbers for the Big Ten this season, as well as helping the metrics of the Big Ten Network in the coveted New York market. Now that very same conference is set to turn its back on the deserving student-athletes who defied the odds during a season in which they were supposed to get embarrassed.
It’s time for Delaney and the Big Ten to make their voices heard and make sure that the real feel-good story of the conference gets the bowl game it deserves.
Follow Kristian on Twitter at @KristianRDyer
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