Membership offers RU?benefits
When Rutgers head wrestling coach Scott Goodale took over the program in 2007, he did not envision fielding interest from recruits halfway across the country.
Then again, the Scarlet Knights were not set to become part of the most competitive conference in America.
“It gives us more visibility around the country,” Goodale said of the school’s Nov. 20 announcement to join the Big Ten. “The best kids in the country want to wrestle in that conference. Immediately we have gotten phone calls from juniors all the way as far as Montana that want to wrestle in the Big Ten.”
The Knights, pending a $10 million exit fee with the Big East, will join the conference beginning in the 2014-2015 season.
Rutgers competes in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association on the mat, but will join with the rest of the school’s sports once the exit fee is paid.
By then, sophomore 165-pounder Nick Visicaro will be in his last year of eligibility under Goodale.
But the chance to go against Big Ten competition has him excited for the opportunity.
“It makes you want to work so much harder,” Visicaro said. “There are a lot of talented wrestlers in the EIWA, but the Big Ten is a whole other level.”
Rutgers’ future home boasts the No. 1 team in the nation this season in Minnesota and features six of the top-10 programs in the country.
The rest of Visicaro’s teammates share his anticipation to square off against top competition, but the feeling is also a reason why many top recruits in New Jersey and the surrounding area left for the Midwest to continue their careers.
Goodale does not see that as an issue anymore.
“Our goal has always been to bring in the best kids to compete at a high level. We’ve lost a lot of kids to the Big Ten as they wanted to wrestle in that conference,” he said. “Now it is no excuse.”
Four-time NCAA All-American and current Rutgers assistant Frank Molinaro, who wrestled at Penn State after a three-time New Jersey Champion career at Southern Regional (N.J.) High School, was one of them.
Last year’s NCAA Champion at 149 pounds, Molinaro said the way the team’s schedule setup — a slate that gets tougher toward the back end of the season — is its biggest adjustment.
“The second half is a serious grind,” Molinaro said. “You have to go through Big Ten matches Friday and Sunday, Friday and Sunday, then you have one or two matches out of conference and then its the conference tournament.”
Molinaro also believes the conference tournament, which features a smaller and more competitive field, is a step up from the NCAA Tournament bracket.
“It doesn’t spread the guys out as much [as the NCAA Tournament],” Molinaro said. “So there are no easy matches. Every match is a grind.”
Some members of the program, like senior 157-pounder Scott Winston, will not grapple under the banner of the Big Ten.
Still, the thought of Rutgers going up against the likes of Minnesota, Penn State and Iowa excites Winston for the future.
“[The move] is along the lines of what I envisioned when I came here — us competing with the biggest teams in the country,” Winston said. “We’re definitely on the verge of that and we are definitely on our way back this year. We’re going to do big things this year and [our success] is only going to spiral out of control in the next couple years.”
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @BradlyDTargum.