In 2021, the University announced a 20-year $28 million dollar deal with Jersey Mike’s Subs, which featured the implementation of numerous changes to Rutgers Athletics. The most visible change is the new name of the Rutgers Athletics Center (RAC) on the Livingston campus to Jersey Mike's Arena.
Many students to this day still fondly refer to the stadium as the RAC. One user on a Reddit thread said, "Will always be the RAC for the fans." So what exactly is it about Jersey Mike's Arena that makes thousands of Rutgers sports fans cling to its name and atmosphere to become hesitant to any major changes?
While the arena may lack visual appeal, its odd trapezoidal shape and industrial-like interior effectively carry the screams from the crowd to the action on the court, creating an overwhelming amount of noise.
In a Sports Illustrated article, Rutgers men's basketball fifth-year senior guard Caleb McConnell describes it as "electric" and said, "Sometimes it gets to the point where we can’t even hear each other on the court at all."
This "Trapezoid of Terror" is what drew head coach Steve Pikiell to the Rutgers men's basketball program in the first place. When Pikiell was first offered his current role, Rutgers men's basketball lacked the eye-catching statistics that traditionally draw in coaching talent.
Still, when decorated former college basketball coach Jim Calhoun told Pikiell that Jersey Mike’s Arena (the RAC at the time) "is as tough of a place as I’ve ever had to coach," the latter accepted his offer.
Rutgers' gradual crawl to the top has largely been credited to Pikiell, who would likely not be here if it was not for the unique energy of Jersey Mike's Arena. And the atmosphere has proved to be effective as the Scarlet Knights have a record of 14-2 at home and 2-5 away.
But due to the University's agreement with Jersey Mike's Subs, it must create "a substantially renovated or new Arena" by July 1, 2028, or otherwise accept that Jersey Mike's Subs would cease funding Rutgers Athletics.
Altering the charm and home-court advantage of Jersey Mike's Arena's current atmosphere is a huge threat to what Rutgers fans value most. While it is difficult not to get caught up in the flash and glory of a thriving Big Ten program and a hefty Jersey Mike’s Subs check, Rutgers needs to remember what is most important to its community, and that community should not be neglected.
If such renovations are going to happen, Rutgers needs to guarantee that unique characteristics of the current arena will not be lost: the acoustics, the edgy feel of the building and the closeness between the crowd and the court.
For example, in 2019, Butler University started a $10.5 million dollar renovation of its beloved 91-year-old Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. But the administration assured that many renovations would go to improving practice facilities and gyms by focusing on air conditioning, bleachers and lighting. They made clear that they did not want to compromise the historical and family feel of the arena, which is a large draw for recruits.
At the moment, it is difficult to feel completely confident that these things will be preserved at Rutgers. Pat Hobbs, Director of Rutgers Athletics, has said that compared to other Big Ten schools, Rutgers has the least amount of premium seats when looking at basketball and football.
He also emphasized that adding more premium seats to the bleacher section and as well as bar-top tables in the basketball arena in 2017 created a 40 percent increase in revenue previously generated by that section.
In 2017, Hobbs also told NJ Advance Media that "we'll look at all of these opportunities" when discussing the future vision for changing Rutgers sports arenas and stadiums. If the University's plan is to enhance the spectator experience by adding premium seating, it cannot forget about the experience of students.
The University has not been accommodating to students. For one, ticketing has always been an issue for students. Previously, when students secured tickets online, it was more convenient, but the online platform crashed frequently. Student tickets for high-demand games sold out in seconds.
And now, students must wait in line two hours before a game in hopes of squeezing into the tightly-packed student section.
If Rutgers cares about spectators, rather than just investing in premium seats, it should also consider expanding the size of the student section. More students will be able to attend games and contribute to the noise, which easily distracts even the most daunting opponents in the Big Ten.
Additionally, the University is less likely to face backlash about the renovations if it is able to promise students that it will implement changes that benefit them and that any hypothetical increase to premium seating will not greatly diminish general admission and student sections.
But this trust will only be earned if Rutgers provides transparency and a timeline for the renovations occurring at Jersey Mike's Arena. If such ambitious renovations must be completed by 2028, it is not unreasonable to assume that construction should start relatively soon, as they will most likely take a few years.
When should the Rutgers community expect these changes to start, and will games have to be relocated? We deserve to know. All Rutgers fans, including students and alum, should not be out of the loop when it comes to an issue so close to their hearts. Rutgers cannot forget that it not only has a deal with Jersey Mike's Subs, but it also has a duty to keep its loyal community in mind and honor their wishes
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