Rutgers mailbag: When could basketball season start? What will Greg Schiano do without fall football?

It’s been a while.

Now that the Big Ten’s decision to postpone the fall football season has mostly settled in – well, maybe not in Nebraska – and a decision on the basketball season remains a few weeks away, it’s a good time for another Rutgers mailbag, this one power exclusively with questions from Rutgers Sports Insider text messaging subscribers.

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Let’s get to it …

How about an update on Rutgers men’s basketball? Are they allowed into the RAC to work out (Geo Baker has the keys right)? — Chris K.

The program has been back on campus and working out at the APC in Piscataway for a few weeks now. I believe almost all players – if not the entire team – are back by now and participating in workouts. Everyone has been healthy so far. You can read more on how the team has looked in our recent summer Q&A with Steve Pikiell.

What are you hearing about the basketball schedule and is it realistic to think it may begin early January? Second, how can the Big Ten think we can start football in January, February or March with our weather that time of year? — Steve P.

There was a sentiment for much of the summer the college basketball (and wrestling) seasons were likely to be pushed back to a Jan. 1, 2021 start date and then become 3-4 month sprints. But the idea of starting the season on schedule with various bubble formats has become more prevalent recently. The NCAA has said it will have a plan by mid-September; I cannot see a months-long bubble, but I think short-term bubbles or playing games in pods will be prevalent in the regular season and conference tournament period, followed by sequestering NCAA Tournament and NIT teams.

One thing I am certain of: There will be March Madness, even if it’s in April or May. College sports can survive canceling one Big Dance and missing one fall football season, but it can’t overcome a second straight year without its biggest money-maker.

As for the Big Ten’s reported interest in an alternate football season that is more winter than spring: The weather isn’t ideal in those months, but I don’t think it’s impossible to play outdoors in New Jersey and other member states.

How much do you think a sold-out RAC contributes to the team’s play compared to an empty arena? There was an awful lot of hype about the “Trapezoid of Terror” last year, but is the expectation of no home crowd this winter actually going to affect the team’s performance at all? — Mike D.

Would Rutgers have gone 18-1 last season at the RAC if the place was empty? Probably not. But would it have had so many losses on the road if those buildings were empty? Probably not. I tend to think everything balances out in the end and the net impact of an empty RAC will not be a major negative. But it would still be a tough blow if the RAC is not the RAC this coming season.

Any new momentum with Estime or VanDeMark? Seems strange that Michigan State jumped into the lead with both and Rutgers having Hoffman. — Alex A.

The bottom line is this: Some top recruits are going to want to go out of state, no matter how hard Rutgers pushes. It appears St. Joseph of Montvale stars Audric Estime and Geno VanDeMark fall in that category. That could certainly change – Schiano’s staying power in these recruiting battles will be much greater than Chris Ash’s and he has shown he can flip kids in high demand – but for now, they appear headed to East Lansing. And that’s life. Augie Hoffmann (and Nunzio Campanile) are not going to guarantee a parade of commits from the Bergen County parochial powers with their mere presence on staff. Nor should Rutgers fans fret because they have not pulled any big-name recruits from that area yet.

What are the Rutgers coaches doing this fall with no games? Will they attend high school games around the country in person? — Keith F.

Schiano and his staff cannot attend games or do any in-person recruiting as long as the NCAA’s dead period, currently scheduled to run through Sept. 30, remains in place. The same goes for recruits visiting campus (although I expect you may see more families take things into their own hands like a group of Oklahoma commits are doing with an informal gathering).

The current Rutgers players will be on campus this semester and the coaching staff will be permitted to work with them. Schiano was coy about how he and his staff intend to approach the next few months because he believes they will find competitive advantages. But it’s clear they will be busy.

What is the feeling for the starting QB position? — Cyril W.

If you listened to the latest Rutgers Rant podcast, you know we reported Artur Sitkowski ran with the first team during the first (and only, really) walkthrough workout Rutgers had this summer before its outbreak and then the Big Ten’s decision. But there are still plenty of reasons to forecast Noah Vedral as the more-likely starter. Whenever the next season does get played, it feels like a coin toss.

Do you sense a shift in attitude or more specifically a greater willingness to be around the program by former players now that Schiano is back? How has Schiano leveraged them? Any participation by former players that were recruited by Chris Ash? — Guy N.

It’s no secret many former players felt detached from the program during Ash’s tenure, and Schiano has made mending those fences a priority. We saw a number of former players join Schiano’s staff and/or make appearances around campus in the weeks and months between his hiring and the start of the pandemic. I think you will see that continue once life gets back to relative normal, whenever that is.

I’m interested to know what the broader population thinks of the prominent role Ray Rice played in the “Rutgers Rise/Return” shows? Personally, I was fine with it. Life is about redemption. — Clark W.

Your question is the only time anyone brought up Rice’s participation in the recent BTN shows to me, which I think is telling. Rice’s actions in Atlantic City in 2014 were horrific, but he paid for them with his NFL career and he has done a tremendous amount to make amends in the years since, including being around the Rutgers football program in recent years.

The big looming question, of course, is where he stands in terms of induction into the Rutgers Hall of Fame. If and when Rice does get inducted, that decision will likely generate more reaction than an appearance in a documentary, and understandably so. But there is no question he belongs in the hall from an athletic standpoint – he is the greatest Rutgers player in the modern era and is No. 2 all-time behind Paul Robeson at worst. The question is whether the totality of his actions on and off the field permit him entrance – a question that has never been answered.

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James Kratch may be reached at [email protected].

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