Monmouth Athletics announced the football team will travel to Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and in-state opponent Rutgers for the first matchup in program history on Sept. 5, 2020 at HighPoint.com Stadium in Piscataway.
This game marks the first time Rutgers has played an in-state school since its last matchup with Princeton in 1980 and the first for the two schools.
“It is an indication on how we have grown as a football program since 1993,” said Football Head Coach Kevin Callahan. “It shows the growth of the program and where it is heading. We are going to have quite a challenge in front of ourselves in 2020 as the Rutgers program continues to grow and develop under Head Coach Chris Ash. It is a challenge we welcome and it is a challenge we are excited for.”
Rutgers will pay Monmouth $375,000 for the game, according to the game contract obtained through a public records request. Morgan State, Rutgers’ most-recent FCS opponent, was paid $350,000 for its visit to Piscataway last fall. FBS opponents pay opponents for home games, like Monmouth and other Football Championships Subdivision (FCS) school. The money will go into the general revenue for athletics, according to Marilyn McNeil, Ph.D., Vice President and Director of Athletics.
Monmouth will also be allotted 400 complimentary tickets, 1,000 tickets to sell to its fans, 70 programs, 60 sideline passes and up to 15 all-access passes for VIPs. The Monmouth band, cheerleaders and mascot will also be admitted for free, according to public records.
According to McNeil, the matchup became possible after football joined the Big South Conference in 2014 after being the Northeast Conference (NEC). “It became a serious possibility when we joined the Big South when we increased scholarships. We have been always interested in playing Rutgers, but once we got the scholarships and were able to play Rutgers it was, ‘Why not play them?’”
Since joining the Big South, Monmouth has improved in conference play. In 2014, Monmouth had a 1-4 record but in 2017, they were 4-1 which included an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs.
“The historic nature of the Monmouth-Rutgers game is huge for the Big South Conference. Playing FBS programs always provides opportunities to showcase the fine football played in the Big South, and our outstanding student-athletes,” said Big South Commissioner Kyle B. Kallander. “However, the interest and exposure of this game will rise to another level, and that makes it special for everyone involved. Monmouth has done an outstanding job developing a nationally prominent football program under Kevin Callahan’s leadership. We are all excited about this challenge.”
“I think it is a tremendous opportunity for the entire Monmouth community, including the student body and alumni,” said Grey Dimenna, Esq., University President. “It is a chance for those groups to band together, rub elbows and compete with the perceived ‘elite’ college football program in the state. Bragging rights are on the line and it is a good opportunity to show off to the rest of the state and the college football world what Monmouth has to offer.”
This will not be the first matchup in athletics for Monmouth and Rutgers. They routinely matchup in other sports like baseball, women’s soccer, and previously in basketball. In 2018, women’s soccer traveled to Rutgers and defeated the Scarlett Knights 2-1. The Rutgers’ athletic department did not respond for comment for the story.
“It is a huge step from the university. It is not only the first time football is playing a Big Ten Conference team, but Rutgers,” said Eddy Occhipinti, Associate Athletics Director of Marketing and Sponsorships. “It means a lot for current students, [and] alums. Monmouth fans will be able to see football play on the highest stage.”
Since the game is two years away, current junior and senior players will not be able to play due to graduating and losing their eligibility. “While I will not be able to play, it will be fun to watch the young guys who are sophomores and freshmen,” said junior quarterback Kenji Bahar. “It will be awesome still to watch the game and to see where the program has gone.”
Current sophomore running back Pete Guerriero is looking forward to the matchup. “It is an awesome opportunity for us. We have a few years away until 2020, but when it is coming up, I know we will be ready.”
“A game like this could have a positive impact on a number of areas, including enrollment. Competing against a Big Ten opponent in a sport like football helps get the Monmouth name and brand out on a national scale,” Dimenna said. “Such visibility is always good for drawing attention to Monmouth and maybe causing prospective students to take a closer look at us.”
The game also means a lot for current students, even if they won’t be current students come 2020. “It’s a huge step for the program to be able to go head-to-head with a team of that caliber. We’ve seen so much growth in this program recently, from a brand-new stadium to its first-ever playoff appearance,” said WMCX Sports Director Matt DeLuca. “People are recognizing that growth, and the players’ and coaches’ success is being rewarded with these opportunities. It’ll be a great atmosphere and another huge milestone for the program, as well as a great showcase of New Jersey college football. I’m very excited for Coach Callahan, his staff, and the players.”
Monmouth has played FBS opponents in the past. The first was in 2015 when they traveled to Central Michigan. They also played Kent State in 2016 and most recently Eastern Michigan in 2018. In 2019, they will travel to Western Michigan before playing Rutgers in 2020. Monmouth has been beat each time by FBS opponents. The closest matchup was a 27-7 loss to Kent State.
“The local power five school is willing to pay a mid-major school in Monmouth,” Occhipinti said. “These are good, fun, competitive games. Monmouth student-athletes get to test themselves verses Big Ten student-athletes.”
IMAGE COURTESY of Monmouth Athletics