October 18, 2018 | ° F

GLASS: Ending Army, Navy games was bad move


Opinions Column: Extra Curricula


Obviously, longevity is one element, but there are other factors that make a great traditional rivalry. When Princeton dropped Rutgers from its football schedule, it made sense for both schools because there was no reason to believe the game would be competitive in the future and Princeton had not had much interest in the game for a long time. But, the end of the rivalry caused enormous anguish on Rutgers side. The Princeton game was the high point of the social calendar for Rutgers organizations that had nothing to do with football, and for undergraduates and alumni who had never been to the game. The Rutgers vs. Princeton game had been the real homecoming weekend regardless of what was designated each year.

Fortunately, Rutgers had two other great traditional rivals in Army and Navy. Army took up football in 1890, while Navy took up the sport in 1879, and both played Rutgers in 1891. For a long time, Rutgers had been the oldest rival to both schools. These games added importance when Princeton was no longer on the schedule. It became routine for Rutgers to play one service academy a year and to alternate home sites with both academies.

Several factors made the games so popular. First, there is both the primacy and longevity of the rivalries. Rutgers has been playing Army and Navy longer than 11 members of the Big Ten have been playing football. The Rutgers and Ohio State service academy rivalry is older than all other Big Ten rivalries.

Second, there is something patriotically stirring about being associated with a service academy in any way, even if it is just playing them in football or lacrosse. 

Third, even though in recent years Rutgers has had better series, the games have been competitive, eagerly anticipated and interesting to watch. 

Fourth, because Rutgers is a day trip from both service academies, the corps of cadets or midshipmen often made the trip to cheer their team. It was always stirring to see them march into the stadium and to their seats. Rutgers fans would often make certain to bring their families and friends, especially children, to the stadium to see the spectacle, as well as the game. When Army, Navy and Rutgers were all-male institutions, the young officers would sometimes attend a dance after the game with the Cook and Douglass campus co-eds before returning home.

As wonderful as the home games were for Rutgers, the away games were even better. Both service academies are in beautiful locales, West Point and Annapolis, that are especially picturesque in the early fall. The young officers and members of the academy communities were unfailing friendly and respectful to Rutgers. Both locations are close enough for a day trip, and interesting enough for a weekend visit. Day trippers would try to arrive early enough to review the corps on the parade ground. Weekenders would tour the academy and perhaps take in another local attraction.

An added benefit of a weekend at West Point was the opportunity to stay at the historic Thayer Hotel on the West Point campus or the rustic Bear Mountain Inn nearby. Also, if the game was scheduled early enough in the fall, instead of driving, one could take a cruise liner up the Hudson for the game and back again in the evening.

For all these reasons the service academy games were fan favorites. From 2001 to 2015, the Scarlet Knights played a service academy every year except for 2013 — three times in 2003, 2007 and 2008. In recent years the significance of the Rutgers vs. Army game was recognized by having both Yankee Stadium and the Meadowlands Sports Complex bid to host the game. Then Chris Ash became head coach and dropped Army and Navy from the schedule.

The potential of future Meadowlands Sports Complex/Yankee Stadium games adds an economic significance to the decision. Programs move games off campus when they think (or know) they can make more money at the off campus site. Army and Rutgers thought they would (and perhaps did) make more money when the game was played off campus. Army has a national following and in the last century was a major attraction at Yankee Stadium. In this century, a long run of poor to fair teams reduced the immediate appeal of Army football but not the potential of the permanent national following. Last year, Army won 10 games. Furthermore, given Army’s national following and the fact that the New York area is, by far, the largest television market, it probably would attract a large television payout as well. 

So over a period of time Rutgers has run up the largest cumulative deficit in the history of college athletics, which is funded out of fees paid overwhelmingly by undergraduates who will never attend a Rutgers football game. Rutgers has foregone the possibility of millions of dollars in extra revenue in order to end one of the longest and most entertaining rivalries in college football.

Arnold Glass is a professor in the Rutgers Psychology Department. His column, "Extra Curricula," runs on alternate Thursdays. 

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Arnold Glass

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