Why New Jersey has underachieved in college football

With the 13th pick, the Arizona Cardinals select Haason Reddick, linebacker, from Haddon Heights, N.J.

No, those weren’t the exact words that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said when he spoke on the podium at the NFL Draft on April 27. Although, if he and others that announced names did reference towns and not colleges, New Jersey towns would have been mentioned eight times throughout proceedings.

There are currently 38 players in the NFL from the Garden State, and more than 100 have competed in the league since 2013. Despite all this talent, New Jersey does not have anywhere near as reputable an image when it comes to football at the collegiate level.

High Point Solutions Stadium (opened as Rutgers Stadium) in Piscataway, N.J., has been the Scarlet Knights’ football home since 1994. Photo via scarletknights.com

New Jersey was home to the first collegiate football game, back in 1869, between Rutgers and Princeton. The Scarlet Knights won a bruising game, 6-4. Still, to this day, Seton Hall’s rival to the south displays the tapestry that reads “The Birthplace of College Football” behind their end zone.

But while New Jersey may be the birthplace, it is certainly not the hotbed when it comes to college football. And considering how much the sport plays into the identity of high school and lower level sports in the area, that is a problem.

Photo via SHU Athletics

The idea for Seton Hall to adopt football should be nothing more than a fleeting concept. The school actually did have a football program, twice, from 1882 to 1932, and more documented from 1973 to 1982.

But times have changed and things have settled that currently make football impractical. History shows that Seton Hall and football did not go hand in hand. In its second incarnation, the program competed in Division III, practicing on what was then a muddied Owen T. Carroll Field and playing games in a near empty Giants Stadium, losing more often than not.

Football has also clashed with basketball on many campuses, with the conflict breaking apart the old version of the Big East in 2013. In many instances, embracing football or basketball have been mutually exclusive for universities. Seton Hall and the Big East are based in an area of the country that fosters some of the best basketball talent, and have through time chosen to identify themselves with basketball, not football.

Still, New Jersey deserves collegiate football success. Seton Hall will not stretch to accommodate a sport that will require exorbitant resources, which means the burden will rest heavily on Rutgers, the school’s arch rival in Piscataway.

At the moment, Rutgers’ biggest stumbling block seems to be recruiting, something which Seton Hall knows all too well with basketball. It was one transcendent class of basketball players in 2014 that set the stage for a Big East Tournament title and three straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

Seton Hall was not always getting premier talent, but all of a sudden, through the decision of a few players who went against the status quo, the Pirates had their opportunity and seized upon it. The difference with football is that changing a culture requires much more than two or three players.

Rutgers seemingly had this moment in the mid-2000s, when a memorable recruiting class helped Greg Schiano lead the Scarlet Knights to a top 10 AP ranking, a double-overtime loss from a BCS bowl. But the greatness of that team did not leave a lasting mark.

Now, 11 years removed from that magical 2006 run, the state finds itself in the same situation it has been in for about 147 of the 148 years since 1869: with the high school talent to make a championship program, but an inability to hold onto it.

James Justice is a broadcast and visual media major from Caldwell, N.J. He can be reached at james.justice@student.shu.edu or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.

Author: James Justice

James Justice is the Assistant Sports Editor at The Setonian, a role he took over in May of 2018. He previously served as the Sports Copy Editor in the 2017-18 year, following his time as a staff writer. Outside of The Setonian, James is a match-day correspondent for the New York Red Bulls' SB Nation website Once A Metro, in addition to being a news and sportscaster for 89.5 WSOU FM.

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