Why Rutgers' APR ranking is exactly what the Big Ten wants to see
But though TV revenue is the driving force behind expansion and just about everything else in college sports, the Big Ten is an admirably snooty group when it comes to academics. Each of the league's 11 universities is part of the prestigious American Association of Universities, and none are lower than 71st on U.S. News & World Report's rankings of national universities.
That's why beyond TV appeal -- and far beyond its recent success on the field -- Rutgers' academics (an AAU member, Rutgers is tied for 66th in the U.S. News rankings) are a central reason the school will almost certainly be one of those added when the league expands to 14 or 16 schools.
That brings us to the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate report, which came out Wednesday. The Rutgers football team received a public recognition award -- given to schools who place in the top 10 percent -- for the third straight season.
Rutgers is in very good company among Football Bowl Subdivision schools on the public recognition list. The other six are Duke, Northwestern, Rice, Air Force, Notre Dame and Miami.
Of that group, only Rutgers, Duke, Rice and Air Force have appeared on the list in each of the past three years. And in all three years, Rutgers has been the only state university on the list. That's a significant feat because 10 of the Big Ten's 11 schools (Northwestern being the only exception) are public, meaning a state university with top-tier academics -- Michigan is the posterchild -- is exactly the kind of school the conference wants.
Rutgers, of course, was prestigious for its academics before it even had a football program -- and that's saying something given that the school hosted the first game ever played. It's also true that the school's overall academic reputation is far more important than the APR score for the football team -- or that of the cross country, women's tennis and gymnastics teams, which were also recognized Wednesday.
But this is an ultra-competitive era in which conferences and their member schools are constantly jockeying for positioning. Leagues don't only want the most teams playing in bowl games -- they also want the biggest TV deals, the most players taken in the NFL draft, the biggest and best stadiums, and -- especially in the Big 10's case -- the best academics.
Rutgers' spot in the APR rankings, when coupled with the school's recent stadium expansion and relative success on the field -- the Knights have been stagnant for the past three seasons but remain headed in the right direction -- help foster the notion that the school founded before the American Revolution is actually on the rise, only now coming into his prime after more than two centuries of existence.
Not wanting to alienate anyone in the Big East, Rutgers officials have been understandably silent regarding expansion talk. But even when if they're not trying to -- maybe they are trying to, but it's impossible to tell -- Greg Schiano and Co. are sounding the exact message that the Big Ten wants to hear.
On a conference call today discussing the APR report, for instance, Schiano might as well have been recording a Big 10 infomercial about attracting students serious about both school and football.
"I hope we attract guys like that," he said, "because of what we have been able to accomplish not only on the field but in the classroom. One of the things I think that, now, after doing it for a number of years and after consistently going to bowl games and winning bowl games, the kind of young person we are going to attract is serious about both academics and football."