My fellow New Jerseyans. On this cloudy and gloomy day in our great state, I am here to tell you that the State of the State's Division I collegiate athletic programs are alive and well…I mean, for a few teams.
In looking at our state's outstanding programs, I am looking at just win-loss records and their performances on the field. This speech is not about the school's research programs or how moving conferences advance different grants for a business program or synergy. We are discussing on-field achievements, and that is the only point here.
I am also not pulling punches here. I got my bachelor's from Monmouth and master's from Saint Peter's. I will look at those schools not as an alum but as someone who reports and critiques everyone equally.
So my fellow citizens of the most excellent state in the union, let's look at the one Power 5 conference school in New Jersey and its program.
So to start…the Scarlet Knights football program is awful, plain and simple. Regarding the gridiron, Rutgers has no business being in the Big Ten; deep down, they know that. Greg Schiano has not rejuvenated the program and brought the team back to its mid-2000s glory. An anonymous Big Ten coach even called out the team, saying in Athlon Sports:
"Whatever buzz Greg (Schiano) had by going back, it's pretty much gone. He's turned over a significant amount of staff, and word is out that it's a highly stressful environment. They had two quarterbacks play poorly last year, and they changed the coaches but didn't portal any new QBs. That tells you something. There's building pressure for them to get it right and back, but that's not possible. The guys who hired him back think they can have those Big East seasons again."
But that's football. In other sports within the program, they are all thriving. Rutgers' baseball is a consistent player in the conference as they just missed the NCAA Tournament the last two years (and they should have gotten in both years) and continue to produce players like All-Big Ten second-team infielder and all-time Rutgers home run leader Chris Brito and All-Big Ten first team pitcher Christian Coppola. Men's and women's basketball are in good hands as the men's team has turned into a perennial NCAA Tournament team while Coquese Washington is rebuilding the women's into a powerhouse, especially after picking up transfer Mya Petticord and incoming freshman Lisa Thompson.
Even more profound in the Rutgers program is the men's and women's soccer, wrestling, and even gymnastics, who set a school record by winning a tri-meet in March with a score of 196.875 behind four-time first-team All-Big Ten star Hannah Joyner. While football remains king for many schools nationwide, we should ignore Rutgers' football program. Instead, look at the amazing things everyone else is doing within the Scarlet Knight athletic program.
Saint Peter's and Fairleigh Dickinson
Who knew three years ago that these two jobs would be a stepping stone to something bigger? The Peacocks and the Knights advanced in the NCAA Tournament, with Saint Peter's going to the Elite Eight in 2022. Shaheen Holloway left Jersey City to coach his alma mater Seton Hall while FDU coach Tobin Anderson parlayed a 2023 NEC Championship and a major March Madness upset to land the head job at Iona.
For FDU, it has been a great year in other sports, as women's volleyball won the NEC crown while men's and women's soccer also made appearances in the NCAA Tournament. FDU was also ranked 92nd in the 2022-23 Learfield Directors Cup, the highest ranking for any NEC school in history.
Saint Peter's themselves are in the middle of a resurgence after the opening of the renovated Yanitelli Center and Run Baby Run Arena. After hiring Bashir Mason from Wagner, the basketball program took a step back after losing seven players from the NCAA Tournament team. Besides basketball, All-MAAC Academic stars are all over campus, and the Peacocks seem to be building a steady program. However, I would not be a reporter if I did not point out an 0-30 record for the Saint Peter's women's basketball team this past season. It can't get any worse, right?
I want to start with the Pirates' baseball program. Growing up, Seton Hall was among the best baseball teams not just in New Jersey, but in the country. Names like Craig Biggio, Mo Vaughn and Jason Grilli (yes, Jason Grilli had his moments in the Majors) were alums of the program. Now it looks as if Seton Hall is in the middle of the pack of the Big East, and there is no buzz about the program. They went 31-24 this past season, including 13-8 in the Big East, which is a start, but they need to figure out the formula for Seton Hall to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.
In regards to basketball, Shaheen Holloway used this past season to figure out what he has on this team and to implement his style of play in South Orange. They reloaded the roster and are set to be more competitive in the always-tough Big East, so Holloway and his squad have their work cut out for them. They are getting a new practice center for both basketball teams, which has been a point of contention for the school, so that is a recruiting tool they could use in the future.
Monmouth's first season in the CAA wasn't all a loss for the Hawks as the women's basketball team won the CAA Tournament and appeared in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the great year of 1983, also my year of birth. As a seventh seed, they ran through the conference tournament and made a statement to the rest of the CAA that they are a force to be reckoned with. The same could not be said about the men's basketball team, as they struggled to a 7-26 record, including a 5-13 conference mark.
Monmouth football was snakebit by close losses, as three of their six losses were by four points or less. Untimely defensive lapses and flat-out bad football, especially in their 32-point loss to Delaware, were their downfall as Kevin Callahan looks to get back on track in their second season in the CAA. Besides basketball and football, track and field are rising as the program has had numerous student-athletes qualify for the NCAA Track and Field Championships over the last few years.
With Athletic Director Jeff Stapleton announcing his retirement, Monmouth will be moving into a new regime for the third time in two years. The next person to take the helm will have a legacy to build upon, but it needs to translate on the field across the program's 24 sports.
NJIT, Princeton, and Rider
I grouped these teams only because they are the programs that have the most upside. Princeton's basketball teams appeared in the NCAA Tournament, and men's lacrosse made it to the tournament as they dropped a heartbreaker to NCAA runner-up Penn State. The Tigers have the disadvantage of playing in the Ivy League, so no one pays much attention to them, but this school has been a standout program in the conference for years and continues to do so year after year.
NJIT is trying to find its way in the America East conference after being a transient program since coming to Division 1 in 2009. Grant Billimier was recently named men's basketball head coach, a significant move for the school and gives them a credible Division I coach for the future. Women's basketball went 8-8 in the conference, which is a good season for them as the Highlanders ascend in the state.
Rider is a small school in New Jersey that is successful across its whole program. The Broncs have 2023 MAAC titles in men's and women's track field (indoor and outdoor), men's swimming and diving and baseball. They are even starting women's lacrosse in 2024 as Rider continues to establish itself as the class of the MAAC. Basketball, both men and women, still need work, but similar to Rutgers, the other sports at Rider are getting the job done and adding to the school's reputation athletically.
So my fellow citizens of New Jersey, the state of New Jersey's collegiate programs are strong and are in a great position to compete long-term. The strength of these programs shows the strength of these institutions and the strength of every student-athlete that puts on the uniforms of these schools. And rest assured, the growth of these programs will continue as we continue to kick the butt of every New York school because, ya know, New York smells weird.
- Grambling State, Hampton pick up wins at Legacy Classic in Newark - February 3, 2024
- What the Giants need to focus on in the offseason - December 26, 2023
- Rutgers falls to Mississippi State at Gotham Classic in Newark - December 24, 2023