Friday, October 12, 2007

What's at stake in tomorrow's game versus Syracuse, or Who is "New York's College Team"?

On at least two occasions in the past year, during the Louisville game on November 9, 2006 and during the NCAA women's finals in early April 2007, the Empire State Building has been bathed in a scarlet glow in honor of the teams across the Hudson at Rutgers. The Knights' games are prominently featured on the nightly news of all the New York city stations, and even the New York Times has partially abandoned its traditional preference for Ivy League football to deign to talk about the teams of New Jersey's great public university. There is a real sense working in and around New York that Rutgers is New York's college team. Their recent losses are as much a topic of conversation as their wins. I don't know how many times I've heard the Maryland and Cincinnati disappointments lumped in with the recent Mets and Yankees collapses. You know that a team has worked its way into the city's psyche when the pain of its defeats are felt as strongly as its successes are celebrated.

So, why does the Syracuse University athletics website claim the name "New York's College Team" for themselves? They even have a large picture of the big copper lady who sits a few feet off the Jersey City shoreline prominently displayed over a NYC skyline in this header on their football page.

There definitely was a time when the closest successful football program to New York City was four hours away in western New York State (closer to Canada than to the Empire State Building) rather than 30 miles away on the Turnpike, but that time may be over. Games like tomorrow's are important in establishing the prominence of the Scarlet over the Orange. This is important not just for the bragging rights and the color of the light filters on the Empire State, but because Rutgers needs to continue winning the New York recruiting wars for the future Brian Leonards and Ray Rices (both of whom could easily have been wearing Orange).

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