Where We Belong: The benefits of membership in the Big Ten.
Two years ago, Rutgers accepted an invitation to compete in the Big Ten Conference across all intercollegiate sports offered at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. Like most people at Rutgers, I was thrilled we were joining this association of nationally prominent research universities, most of which—like Rutgers—are their states’ flagship Association of American Universities institutions. Acceptance into the Big Ten also brought us into its academic consortium, through which our students can take a rare language course taught at the University of Michigan or use the library resources of the University of Illinois. Membership in the Big Ten also fosters vital research collaborations—for example, on traumatic brain injury—with some of the nation’s finest faculty.
But some questioned whether Rutgers was ready for such a strong athletic conference. Last year alone, Big Ten schools won 10 national team titles. To be sure, in joining the Big Ten, we have set very high expectations for our student-athletes and coaches. A year and a half into our membership, are we seeing instant success in every sport? No, but a few Rutgers teams are already among the conference’s best—and with the arrival of Patrick Hobbs as athletic director and Chris Ash as head football coach, momentum and excitement are building on the Banks.
Last fall, the Scarlet Knights women’s soccer program enjoyed its greatest season, with a record 19 wins, an exciting NCAA tournament run, and a national ranking of number 4. Scarlet Knights men’s soccer finished 25th in the nation and earned conference honors for both Coach of the Year Dan Donigan and Offensive Player of the Year Jason Wright. And our wrestling team is ranked 12th in the nation as I write this.
Big Ten membership isn’t just about athletic competition. For Rutgers, it has also meant greater exposure on the national scene. Scarlet Knights teams are regularly seen on the Big Ten Network, which, reaching more than 60 million homes, offers a platform to highlight Rutgers’ academics and faculty. A recent television spot featured School of Health Related Professions professor Ellen Anderson, who created an inclusive sports play program for children too young for the Special Olympics—a program now enjoyed by youngsters in more than 125 countries. The Big Ten’s television contract also generates revenue that is shared by conference members; Rutgers and our fellow newcomer, the University of Maryland, will each receive a full share of these media revenues beginning in 2021.
As proud as we are to join the Big Ten, Rutgers is not just “happy to be here.” We want to contend for titles. That means we need to provide the conditions for our student-athletes to excel in competition as well as in the classroom. As outlined in our new university physical master plan, we are upgrading and expanding our athletic facilities in Piscataway—and we have the strong support of the New Jersey Legislature and Governor Christie, who have approved $25 million in tax credits for this project. I want to thank all the alumni and friends who have pledged donations for athletics facilities, scholarships, and student leadership programs, and I ask for your continued support.
Although indicators like increased applications from the Midwest, higher levels of giving for athletics, and more requests for season tickets are positive signs, it’s hard to quantify what it means for Rutgers to be in the Big Ten, and the full impact won’t be felt for several years. But there is no doubt that this is where Rutgers belongs, academically and athletically: among the most acclaimed research universities in America.