When football fans begin descending in droves on New Brunswick and Piscataway on September 13 (or likely a couple of days earlier) for the first Big Ten® home game, against Pennsylvania State University under the bright lights of High Point Solutions Stadium, the celebratory scene before them, sprawling as far as the eye can see, will lead more than a few to think: “Oh, I get it. So, this is life in the Big Ten.”

On July 1, after close to two years of growing anticipation, Rutgers (along with the University of Maryland) will be officially christened the newest members of the Big Ten, the elite athletic conference that primarily comprises the nation’s top public research universities. The membership comes just a year after Rutgers joined the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), the venerated academic component of the Big Ten that facilitates partnerships among member universities (plus the University of Chicago). The CIC leverages the collective power of its members to reap substantial benefits, from sharing access to digital libraries to fostering research and teaching collaborations. (See the related story, to the right, “Big Ten Athletics—and Big Time Academics.)

If collaboration is the operative word for the CIC, competition will hold sway over Big Ten athletics, just as the fans will want it. Now, the Scarlet Knights football team, as well as the other 23 Division I sports teams competing at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, will face the best athletic competition in the nation as squads from the likes of the University of Michigan, The Ohio State University, and the University of Nebraska roll into town.

Big Ten Conferance Members listing

“Our membership in the Big Ten is everything you would want in a collegiate environment, both academically and athletically,” says Julie Hermann, the director of intercollegiate athletics at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “It’s young people proudly wearing their school colors and being phenomenal ambassadors for their university. And it’s an opportunity for people who love Rutgers and care about Rutgers to come together and celebrate the spirit of Rutgers. A healthy athletic department is a constant source of pride for the university.”

“The Big Ten is exactly the right conference for Rutgers,” said President Robert Barchi, upon the announcement that the university would be entering the conference. “Most of the Big Ten’s member institutions … are research-intensive flagship state universities and fellow members of the Association of American Universities.” The Big Ten will benefit from key attributes of Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights student-athletes in numerous sports have performed at the top academically nationwide for years. This May, for instance, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced that the Scarlet Knights football program was ranked 10th nationally in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) and was the only program at a state university to rank in the top 10 percent nationally in APR for the seventh consecutive year. The research enterprise at Rutgers will only grow with the university’s recent addition of a significant biomedical and health sciences component. And Rutgers is located within the nation’s largest television market, allowing many more Big Ten Network television viewers to witness the excitement of Big Ten competition.

“Our goal is to enter a new region in the country, to make friends, to plant flags, to try to build a presence,” said Jim Delany, the commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, in an interview with Scarletknights.com. “It’s probably the most competitive sports corridor, financial corridor, and political corridor in the world. Whether it’s Rutgers or Maryland, or Penn State, Ohio State, or Michigan, we’re all in it together.”

Rutgers Scarlet Knight


Help celebrate Rutgers’ membership in the Big Ten and CIC at High Point Solutions Stadium on July 1.
Details at RutgersIsB1G.rutgers.edu

Nick Romanenko

Since her arrival in June 2013, Hermann has been busy drawing up blueprints for the athletic program, hitting the road to share her vision with donors and supporters of Rutgers, and helping prepare the university, and the community and local businesses, to host football games on a scale that Rutgers and its fans had until now only imagined. Rutgers Big Ten athletic program won’t be built in a day, says Hermann, who believes a more realistic timeline is six to eight years before the teams begin to reach their potential.

“The athletic department is going up one of the steepest on-ramps in the history of conference realignment,” she says. “But the biggest winner is always the newest university. I feel that Rutgers can be the next great college sports story.”

The first order of business is the construction of a state-of-the-art training facility for all athletes, not just those competing in the major sports. It’s part of Hermann’s plan to build an “athletic district” that will provide an environment in which the best football players train, as well as even dine and study, alongside the top athletes in other sports. Star athletes will benefit from observing how their counterparts in the other sports prepare for competition and academics, and how they lead their life on campus.

With its entry into the Big Ten, Rutgers is positioned to interest top student-athletes from within the state and around the nation. Local talent keen on competing in the Big Ten can now perform against the best, and family and friends can see them play in Piscataway, not just on television and far from home. “When student-athletes choose Rutgers,” Hermann says, “they are coming to a world-class university in one of the most powerful states in a media market that can celebrate their accomplishments like no other.”

Big Tour Bus graphic


As a preview of the excitement over Rutgers’ entry into the Big Ten Conference on July 1, the “R Big Tour” has been on the road making appearances (there will be 145 in all, marking the 145th year of Scarlet Knights football) to introduce the Rutgers community to head coaches and other sports officials. Two remaining premier stops will take place in the coming months:

Cadillac Cantina
Hoboken, NJ, June 19

Bar Anticipation
Lake Como, NJ, July 12 (part of the RUAA Young Alumni Beach Party)

For further information and to register, call 866-445-GORU.

Hermann is optimistic that the Scarlet Knights football team will be competitive from the outset—and so could sports such as men’s lacrosse, women’s basketball, and men’s and women’s soccer. However, in just these sports alone, Rutgers is entering the most competitive sports conference in the nation. “It’s going to be like boxing Muhammad Ali every night,” she says. “But I am prepared to have any one of our teams shock us and put a smile on our faces. And I am prepared for any one of them to break our hearts. We will be humble and hungry, and competing like crazy.”

When she was the executive senior associate to the well-regarded athletic director, Tom Jurich, at the University of Louisville, where the sports program underwent a transformation, the recipe for success was to build a weaker program on the success of a strong one. “We will build this whole athletic department on the back of a great football program,” says Hermann. “Piece by piece, there’s going to come the day when somebody who hasn’t been to Rutgers in five or eight years is going to be very impressed. And it won’t be just about what sports is doing but what President Barchi has been presiding over universitywide.”

Scenarios for success depend on financial support, and Rutgers will need private donations to pay for everything, from new and renovated athletic facilities to administrative costs to student scholarships. The university becomes fully vested in the Big Ten in 2021, when it starts receiving its full share of conference revenue. The Rutgers sports budget for the foreseeable future, however, will be considerably less than those of the heavy-hitters like Ohio State and the University of Michigan, universities that have had decades to build their programs and impressive sports facilities, such as football stadiums with seating capacities in excess of 100,000.

Traveling in and outside of New Jersey to share her vision for Rutgers’ participation in the Big Ten, Hermann has been very encouraged by the reception she has received among donors and members of the Rutgers community, namely its collective pluck in wanting to see the university attain what it rightly deserves, now that its moment has arrived. “What I appreciate about Rutgers, and those around Rutgers,” she says, “is that a lot of people really want to help, whether they are giving their time, talent, or treasure.”

Alumnus Ron Garutti, a long-time donor who founded the Ron and Joanna Garutti Endowed Football Scholarship with his wife four years ago, sees Rutgers’ entry into the Big Ten as a transformational moment. “Becoming a member is the greatest opportunity for our university and its reputation—academically, athletically, financially—since Rutgers became the state university,” says Garutti RC’67. “Everyone needs to embrace this opportunity—coaches, student-athletes, administrators, faculty, alumni, the media, and the people of the state.”

Alumnus Joe Moroney is a generous supporter of the Big Ten Champions Fund, another one of several scholarships that support student-athletes. “It is important to me to support this fund,” says Moroney ENG’94. “My Rutgers education has been a huge positive in my career, but rooting for Rutgers sports teams has always been the way that I expressed my school spirit.” Moroney is mindful that success won’t come to Rutgers overnight. But with the university’s commitment and the choice of the right personnel, Rutgers, he is convinced, can be very successful in the Big Ten. “I am very excited about where we are headed.”

“This is going to be a historic year in the history of our university, not just the football program,” said Kyle Flood, the head coach of the Scarlet Knights football team, speaking in early May at a Big Ten promotional appearance at the Public House restaurant in New York City. “As I’ve said to the team, first impressions count. As a university and as a football program, we want to put the right foot forward immediately as we step into this conference.”

Playing host on this scale will be a new experience for Rutgers. Preparations have been under way to accommodate the surge of visitors expected for the Penn State game and the three other Big Ten home games this year. Big Ten football fans, many of them retirees, are apt to follow their alma mater from one venue to the next, often in recreational vehicles. And they come for a multiday encampment, not just a football game. Livingston Campus will be a prominent destination for RVers, and it will be staged to be its own festive center of attention. Even the sports that typically draw far fewer spectators can expect a big bounce in attendance. (Tickets to all events will be made available to the Rutgers community first, then later sold—at a pre­mium—to fans of visiting teams, with the proceeds going right back into the program.)

“Big Ten fans will be coming in droves,” says Hermann.

Restaurants, hotels, and retail stores in the area will feel the surge in population. People going to the game should no longer think of a home game as just the game itself; it will now be a whole day affair. And arriving home after a night game will require time—and patience. The Big Ten City Committee, comprising on- and off-campus traffic experts, business and city representatives, and Rutgers officials, was formed to draw up plans to handle visitors and direct traffic. More than half a million Big Ten alumni live in the tristate area, according to Hermann, and many of them will be arriving by train. Rutgers will be waiting to greet them as they disembark in New Brunswick, handing out directions and brochures, answering questions, and making sure that Big Ten visitors’ first impressions of Rutgers are positive ones.

“Whether they arrive by train, RV, or car,” says Hermann, “we want our Big Ten visitors to feel as though they have had a first-class experience and are thrilled that Rutgers is their newest member, regardless of the outcome of the game.”