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The Rutgers Classic: A proposal

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A special event airing opposite the Big Ten Championship, if and when we require it.

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images. Banner Society Illustration.

It is becoming more and more alarming that the season is nearly over and no one in charge of college football is going to do anything to pit Northwestern and Rutgers against each other.

Both teams have reached operatic heights of offensive ineptitude, having failed to secure a lead at any point on a Big Ten opponent. The vagaries of Big Ten scheduling will prevent them from meeting during conference play. The solution is clear: A powerful committee of unaccountable bureaucrats must materialize and force them to play one another, on the same day as the Big Ten Championship, in the ruins of the Pontiac Silverdome.

It’s no surprise that Rutgers has plummeted to the depths of the Big Ten this season. Rutgers has spent its time in the conference perpetrating a variety of football obscenities. The league gobbled up Rutgers as a television market foothold; the television product they got is an unyielding “Has this ever happened to you?” section of an infomercial where Jim Delany opens a cabinet and an unending geyser of Rutgers football cascades all over him. This consistent and repeated clobbering is the only viable explanation for the athletic department’s rebirth-in-progress as an apocalyptic Schiano Cult.

To the west (and, very slightly, the north), Northwestern’s decline this year has been more surprising. Last year, they won the Big Ten West. Like Gus Johnson, you may have already forgotten this happened, so they made sure to erect a permanent monument to the feat at Ryan Field.

Photo by the author, who is very brave

This season, Northwestern’s offense has managed to outdo even the most putrid efforts by Rutgers. The Wildcats are averaging 9.8 points per game, the lowest output in FBS football, and nearly five points worse than Rutgers’ average; no team has averaged fewer points since 2013. As of this writing, the team has not scored a touchdown since October 5. (To be fair, this is not long in geological time, when the existence of hominids and the rise of human civilizations takes place in less than an instant of an instant compared to the eons that the Earth spent as an inert rock— expect Pat Fitzgerald to explain this at his next press conference, after he has finished denouncing the GameBoy and the advent of refrigeration that replaced curing meats in salt barrels.)

College football’s wide discrepancy between the number of teams and the number of games that they play already limits the possibilities of matchups that fans would like to see. All of the postseason matchmaking energy gets directed in two ways: in the ridiculous and cacophonous way the Playoff Committee selects the best four teams, and in the way a local executive for a company that invented energy crackers for the Extreme Lifestyle matches up the 48th- and 39th-best teams. What the sport lacks is a way to declare an emergency game between two teams in the same conference playing farcical football to clash in a year they cannot otherwise be measured against each other except in relative margins of victory over UMASS.

Rutgers and Northwestern must play this season. The game should take place the same day as the Big Ten Championship in the bulldozed ruins of the Pontiac Silverdome. The arena, abandoned following a 2013 roof collapse, was once used to store hundreds of Volkswagens recalled after the fraudulent emissions scandal. The site has since been razed, and the only thing to do is to staple a makeshift carpet of Field Turf onto the remains and put two terrible football teams on top of it to see what happens.

It is possible that this game would unleash heretofore unimagined desecrations of the sport. Maybe both teams, having ruled out running and passing, would begin tunneling under the field itself. (In this scenario, Pat Fitzgerald, his head flashing red like an airplane wing beacon, would charge the referees demanding that they flag Rutgers for operating construction equipment without a permit.) The oligarchs in charge of college football should find it well within their powers to summon these squads into a burlesque parody of a Big Ten Championship game in the disused ruins of a football stadium that took multiple attempts to blow up.

This game shouldn’t happen every year, but only in years where a Big Ten team not already on Rutgers’s schedule successfully completes a Rutgersesque feat— going calendar months without scoring a touchdown, losing multiple games by more than 50 points, getting shut out several weeks in a row, or having the quarterback scream out “Rutgers!” while throwing an ill-advised interception. In these cases, the Rutgers Thirteenth Game Commission should meet, determine that a Rutgers Classic should take place, and let everyone know by billowing smoke from the tailpipe of an abandoned Volkswagen. Only then can they sound the trumpets, unfurl the turf, and declare to the entire college football world that this year, Rutgers will meet its match.