Thomas Kelly played in the "old Big East" as a safety for the Rutgers University football team from 1994-97, facing the likes of Miami, Virginia Tech and Syracuse.
Miami and Virginia Tech are gone from the Big East Conference now. Syracuse is on its way out.
Rutgers is leaving now, too. The school announced Tuesday that it will join the Big Ten Conference.
"I'm a little bit torn," said Kelly, now the coach of the Atlantic City High School football team. "I know they're making a financial move. I played in the old Big East. … I kind of miss those rivalries. This day and age it's really about money.
"(But the Big Ten) will be a step up in competition. I'm happy for the fact that (Rutgers has) had the kind of success that another conference wants them."
Margate resident Leo Schoffer, a member of Rutgers' Board of Overseers, was enthusiastic about the move. The Big Ten is financially lucrative due to its television deals, and its programs are steeped in tradition.
"Now we have stability," said Schoffer, 60, a 1974 Rutgers graduate who works as a lawyer and real-estate developer. "We now know where we're going to be for the next 100 or more years."
Schoffer admitted that there are some nostalgic feelings since Rutgers was a charter member of the Big East's football conference. But he pointed out that Rutgers is just the latest team to defect, following Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia.
"Rutgers is the type of institution that it really values its traditions and it's usually not the first one to break rank," Schoffer said. "(But) when everybody started to break rank, it became apparent that Rutgers had to do what was best for the university and the state of New Jersey, and that was to look for a home that really had long-term standing and prestige and was compatible for the university.
"I'm sorry that the original charter members of the Big East didn't make a pact and say, 'We've got a great conference here. … Let's build on what we have and stay together.' "
Atlantic City resident and St. Joseph High School graduate Jack Corcoran was a three-year starter at fullback for Rutgers, graduating in 2010. Corcoran said he only wished that the move had been made while he played for the Scarlet Knights.
"It'll definitely be a step up and better competition," said Corcoran, who this week took over the CrossFit program at Oceanside Wellness & Sport in Egg Harbor Township. "I would've liked to have played great teams every week."
It's unclear yet which division of the Big Ten Rutgers will join, but they could play teams like Penn State, Ohio State and fellow newcomer Maryland every season.
"Any time you have a chance to have Michigan and Ohio State and Penn State in your stadium, it's going to be tremendous," said Absegami High School football coach Dennis Scuderi Jr., who served as Rutgers' recruiting coordinator in 2007.
Scuderi and Kelly agreed that from a high school coach's perspective, the move should help Rutgers' recruiting.
"When you mention the competition they'll be playing against, places they'll get to travel, places they'll get to see, you're also talking about television coverage," Kelly said.
Playing in the Big Ten also should help attendance. Penn State and Maryland should draw well due to their proximity to the New Brunswick campus, but even schools such as Nebraska and Wisconsin are known to travel in droves, as opposed to Big East schools such as South Florida and Cincinnati with less tradition.
"Rutgers does well with attendance, but one of the things that hurts Rutgers attendance-wise is who the opponents are," Schoffer said. "And the opponents are all institutions that travel well, and they're also going to bring out more local fans."
Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that Rutgers got out of the Big East, which could lose even more schools soon. To get into a situation that is as good a fit as the Big Ten makes it even better.
"I'm psyched for Rutgers," Corcoran said. "I think it's a great move for them. The Big East is declining very quickly. I think it's definitely in their best interest."
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