Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thoughts From The Banks Of The Ol' Raritan

Getting from Princeton to Rutgers for a 7:00 men's lacrosse game on a Tuesday night is not easy.

Traffic on Route 1 is a nightmare at that time, though maybe not a nightmare to someone who is used to having to go through, say, the Lincoln Tunnel. Still, to TigerBlog, it's nightmare enough.

What do you do? Leave at 4 to beat the traffic and get there at 4:30? Or wait until 5:15 and tough it out, not arriving until 6:15 or so?

TB decided to go with the second yesterday, and advancing up Route 1 traffic light to traffic light was about as much fun as he imagined it would be.

Rutgers is about 15 miles away. At that time of day, it seems like 1,500.

And then when TB arrived, it felt like he'd traveled even further, like all the way to another universe.

As he went to park near Yurcak Field, he drove past High Point Solutions Stadium, which used to be a rickety old wooden facility known as Rutgers Stadium back when TB covered the first-ever Big East football game, between the Scarlet Knights and Boston College.

Of course, BC long ago left the Big East. Rutgers is leaving as well. The Big East? Well, it sort of exists, though TB isn't quite sure if the schools that are leaving or the ones that are coming in will be the Big East and the other will be that American conference group.

As TB walked around Rutgers last night, he kept having the same thought - this is going to be a Big 10 school very soon.

It's a fitting place for Rutgers, at least once you get past the fact that the Big 10 used to be a Midwestern league. Rutgers has 31,000 students and is a major public land-grant research University. It never really fit the profile of the Big East, with its smaller, private, mostly Catholic colleges.

TB remembers when Rutgers was in the Eastern 8, which was the forerunner to the Atlantic 10, and then eventually the A-10 and Big East.

All of those leagues, at least, were primarily Eastern at least.

As TB saw what's become of the football stadium, how it's grown into the mammoth High Point Solutions-sponsored facility, he couldn't help but be impressed. He imagined game days now, with Ohio State or Michigan or Wisconsin in for league games.

The place certainly had a different feel. A bigger-time feel.

And an uneasy feel.

Everywhere TB has gone in the last week, the subject of Rutgers Athletics has come up, and not in the way RU would want it. No, it's all about the scandal involving former men's basketball coach Mike Rice, one that has cost four people - to  date - their jobs, including former athletic director Tim Pernetti.

Miss TigerBlog plays lacrosse with a girl whose brother is a football player at Rutgers. TB was talking to the parents this weekend, and TB assumes they basically sum up the feelings of most of the Rutgers people - especially those involved with the football program - in that they couldn't say enough good things about Pernetti and especially about his commitment to student-athlete welfare and experience.

It's ironic, but that is what ultimately did him in, the idea that he could rehabilitate Rice, rather than simply dismiss him. And it might have worked, had the video never gone public and 100% of the people who saw it and weren't affiliated with Rutgers immediately wondered how anyone could have watched that and concluded anything other than the coach had to go at once.

Being on campus last night, TB heard any number of Pernetti-related comments, along with the expected uneasy laughs about how the lacrosse game wasn't quite the biggest story of the week there.

TB contrasted what Pernetti had done with what Rick Pitino has done, and which TB doesn't have to repeat here.

Why did Rice and Pernetti have to go and Pitino got to stay and win a championship?

Was it because there was video of what Rice did? Was it because Pitino's foible was self-destructive, while Rice's was destructive to the athletes themselves? Was Pernetti unsavable because he signed off on something that was directly against the athletes themselves?

Or is it just about winning?

TB read an interesting piece on Grantland about a love/hate relationship regarding college basketball, and what was interesting about it was the author sort of equated college basketball and college athletics as the same thing.

They're not. And this is what drives TB nuts.

Big-time college football and men's basketball generate roughly 100% of the revenues for college athletics and get roughly 99.9% of the media attention generated. They also comprise a tiny percentage of the people who compete in college athletics.

Here's what he had to say:
The NCAA will continue to violate the now-laughable ethic of "the scholarship athlete." It will continue to broadcast its commercials about "going pro in something other than sports" during March Madness. 

To TB, those spots are perfect. They show what college sports are really about, which is taking advantage of the gift of being a top athlete to open educational doors that otherwise might not be there and then turning around and making the commitment to take full advantage of that opportunity.

This is what Princeton Athletics is all about.

It's about the educational opportunity that exists for Princeton's varsity athletes and how they in turn immerse themselves in the entire culture of the University, both in their four years here and then beyond, when they become some of the school's most accomplished and loyal alums.

This is so far away from the games that have been on TV the last few weeks, or from the coming football playoffs, or from the cesspool that can be those two sports.

TB didn't have to do stats or radio last night, so he spent most of the game standing on the sideline, watching the game up close.

The players for both teams played hard, competed to win. At the same time, TB could see how much they simply love to play their game, in much the same way that athletes from other sports love to play theirs.

They were at these two schools for varying reasons, but they were there to take advantage of the chance to get an education and to play their sport at this elite level, something that tens of thousands - hundreds of thousands - of high school athletes don't get to do.

For TB, it was what makes college sports great, and so to him, it was a great night to be of college athletics.

Even at a place where the other side of the coin had recently landed.

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