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Bad Idea Time: Let every conference share Rutgers

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The Scarlet Knights provide one of the most valuable services in all of college football.

Getty Images. Banner Society illustration

Here is a pro rasslin’ concept: the jobber. This is a rassler who rarely wins, instead providing value by making more important wrestlers look better.

At times in rasslin’ history, the jobber hasn’t even gotten entrance music — they just materialize in the ring, act hurt by the more famous rassler’s several moves of doom, endure a pin, disappear, and collect a pay check. Ideally, every match makes even the losing rassler look like a worthy competitor, but the jobber is a tool for a specific task: protecting the big guys from losses altogether.

So the jobber is far more valuable to the collective than the jobber’s win-loss record (if your rasslin’ federation has even acknowledged such a thing exists) would suggest.

You see where I’m going with this.

Rutgers was a good addition for the Big Ten. (I sincerely believe this. And I’m not saying it because of TV Market Proximity, the internet’s favorite pre-Bitcoin pretend currency.)

The Big Ten, once called the “Western” Conference, was willing to expand its borders into New Jersey and thus deserves the (spoiled) spoils. The rewards for its shamelessness include an uptick of beautiful 0s in the loss columns, the Michigan schools getting to score points once a year, and automatic FBS wins every year for several of the Big Ten’s many potential Playoff contenders.

That’s an FCS-level cupcake win — during the first six years of Rutgers’ Big Ten era, the Knights would’ve averaged a ranking of #14 in the FCS, per Sagarin ratings — but also a win that the Playoff committee will acknowledge as an FBS-level victory and a step toward a Power 5 conference championship. The perfect crime.

Plus, you get to pound your chest about playing a big, meaty, NINE-GAME conference schedule, regardless of which newly added team actually provided said ninth game. You also get to call every ACC and SEC team a bunch of cowards for ... maybe playing each other each Thanksgiving and maybe also playing Notre Dame.

“But they play FCS games, and we kind of don’t.”

Oh, but you kind of do.

This terrible program was too good of an addition for the Big Ten. It’s not fair that there’s only one Rutgers.

It’s a geographic accident that only one place on earth has produced Rutgers. Perhaps the ACC could’ve grabbed Rutgers first, but the other powers were too far away.

Sure, every conference has its own traditional punching bag, but even fellow historical P5 doormats Kansas, Oregon State, Vanderbilt, and Wake Forest have outright conference title banners. That ranks them ahead of Rutgers, which can only boast of a four-way tie for the 2012 Big East, a conference almost fully depleted by realignment. That achievement is almost as dubious as Rutgers’ only other one: finishing #2 in 1869.

In any weird year, one of those other P5 laggards could compete for a division title. Rutgers surely requires the most perfect-est storm of any — even if Ohio State and Penn State are postseason-banned (again) while Michigan and Michigan State are down (again), can Rutgers simultaneously beat Indiana and Maryland?

For the Big Ten, Rutgers is the perfect jobber: one with almost zero chance of going rogue and taking somebody else’s title belt. Just a steady stream of breezy Ws. What a tremendous resource Rutgers is.

In the name of equality, let’s put a little bit of Rutgers in every conference.

Rutgers won’t be forced to play 60+ games every year. All that practice might make Rutgers really good at football.

We’ll instead divvy Rutgers’ 12 games up among the Power 5. Each league gets to mix two Rutgers games into its regular schedule. That leaves two games for Rutgers to schedule as it sees fit.

Won’t that create lopsided schedules within each P5 conference? No. We can just cancel series we no longer need, such as Tennessee-Alabama.

Also, let’s do this only in football, for now at least. That way, we don’t have to worry about basketball teams having to travel across earth every Tuesday night and so forth. Rutgers can put its other sports in whichever Division III conference makes the most sense.

As a college football conference commissioner, one of the best ways to stay rich is to make sure your league makes the Playoff.

Think about how much less frequently we’d all say “fire Larry Scott” if the Pac-12 usually made the Playoff. Then Scott would be an eccentric rich guy who gets results (like when Elon Musk invents space cars), as opposed to a weird guy wasting money on vanity stuff (like when Elon Musk invents tunnels).

Sure, Scott has almost no control over whether his conference’s football teams are good or not. Even beyond the Pac-12’s geographic and demographic challenges, no commish can force USC to be good at football.

He could ensure his best teams don’t hit certain pointless roadblocks, though. For example, 2017 USC could’ve ended up with one of the five best Playoff résumés — if not for a short-week, back-to-back road game at the conference’s most remote destination, when the banged-up Trojans lost by three in Pullman. (In contrast, note the SEC’s schedule-makers do not force LSU and/or Bama to go play in Lexington at a weird hour right before facing each other.)

Smarter scheduling wouldn’t necessarily have robbed Wazzu, since the game was gonna be in Pullman anyway, but the Pac-12 could’ve avoided outright hurting its own odds.

So if you don’t want to tilt the field in favor of your good teams by rigging the refs or using tectonic plate machines to literally tilt the field, creating an ideal scheduling environment is the best legal way to remain employed forever. (I’m making this pitch directly to the rich guys in charge, you see.) And, since strength of schedule is only a half-truth, there is no more ideal schedule than one that includes Rutgers.

What if Rutgers beats Vandy and thus finishes the year with a perfect winning percentage in the SEC? Rutgers gets to go to the SEC Championship then, right? That defeats the whole purpose.

Nice try. As we all realized during the LSU-Florida hurricane fiasco of 2016, conferences can stipulate their members must play a certain number of games in order to be eligible for title games.

Any other loopholes to consider? We’ll handwave those later.

Focus on the positives. Look at all the problems this solves:

  • The Big 12 moves to 11 teams, now one away from having the right number of teams, according to its own name.
  • The Big 12 might often struggle to name one true champion, but now it is very easy to name one true non-champion.
  • The Pac-12’s own nine-game schedule is now slightly less likely to wreck the Pac-12, as it does almost every year otherwise.
  • This also breaks the Pac-12 out of its geographic bind. Having been painted into a corner, the West Coast conference suddenly has a foothold on the other side of the country as well.
  • The SEC has to go north sometimes! Sending Bama to Rutgers probably just means Bama taking New Jersey’s #1 recruit again, but still! This is every bit as much “a trip up north” as it is “a power-conference game.” Count it.
  • The ACC is now something other than One Good Team And Its Incompetent Sidekicks, as has been its tradition since Florida State joined in the 1990s. Now those sidekicks have a sidekick of their own!
  • The ACC has almost totally absorbed the old Big East, making UConn even lonelier than ever. I’m not saying I want UConn to be sad. I’m just saying a large portion of the ACC enjoys UConn being sad.
  • Group of 5 leagues gain credibility, because beating Rutgers means beating every power conference at once. How can you leave out the AAC champ, which went 5-0 against the Power 5?

To paraphrase our nation’s foremost philosopher: Rutgers, although slow and dangerous behind the wheel, can still serve a purpose.

But what’s in it for Rutgers? Oh, a lot!

  • Rutgers racks up 10 power-conference paydays per year and enjoys cultural exchanges with such locations as Gainesville, Lubbock, and Salt Lake City.
  • Rutgers fans (and general New Jersey-area sports fans) have one of the best season ticket opportunities anywhere, getting more variety at home than even BYU enjoys, all without having to ever play Liberty. Attendance goes way up!
  • As long as we map these games ahead of time, Rutgers can use its vast road scheduling as a recruiting pitch. You know how Boston College can tell Florida recruits they’ll still get to play near their families, via games against FSU and Miami? Rutgers could do that with as many as two dozen states per cycle. Perhaps New Jersey recruits also like the idea of playing a broad span of Power 5 teams, rather than getting cratered by the same Big Ten East teams for their entire college careers.

Now that we’ve boosted Rutgers’ recruiting, fortified its finances, and normalized its strength of schedule by giving it occasional games against Oregon State instead of Ohio State, we might’ve just turned Rutgers into Notre Dame.

Our previous Bad Idea Times have included moving Notre Dame to the SEC, moving all of bowl season to Week 0 (actually this is a good idea), and allowing only/every undefeated team into the Playoff. And speaking of Rutgers, let’s appreciate the most meaningful kind of squash-match blowout and look back on the 44 times the two worst teams in the country played each other.