June 05, 2013

Rutgers Debacle Embarrasses Region

It started out as an exciting time for Rutgers University when the school's new president, Robert Barchi, was hired last fall. Shortly after taking office, Barchi began work on the university's first strategic plan in over 15 years, started the integration of the University of Medicine and Dentistry into Rutgers, and presided over a news conference in which the school announced it would be leaving the Big East for the football powerhouse, Big Ten Conference.

Then all hell broke loose earlier this spring when videos surfaced on ESPN of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice verbally and physically abusing his players. Homophobic slurs combined with throwing balls at players quickly led to the dismissal of Rice.

Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, the man who orchestrated the move to the Big Ten, was let go soon after because he had allegedly seen the videos several months earlier, and chose to suspend rather than fire Rice.

So then Rutgers chose Eddie Jordan to be its basketball coach. Jordan was a former Rutgers golden child who led the school to the Final Four in 1976. But after announcing himself as a Rutgers graduate (which the university also reported in his hiring), it turned out Jordan had never earned enough credits to get a degree. While it was nothing compared to Rice's actions, there was already a microscope on the university, and it was an unnecessary and lazy misstep.

Next up, was the hire of new athletic director, Julie Hermann. Hermann was previously the senior associate AD at the University of Louisville. Reports soon came out that Hermann had been accused of verbal abuse in 1997 as the volleyball coach at the University of Tennessee. Then, the New York Times reported Hermann was at the center of a sex discrimination lawsuit while at the University of Louisville. Hermann was alleged to have fired a female assistant track and field coach in 2008 after the assistant complained of discriminatory treatment from the head coach.

Does Julie Hermann's history make her a bad choice for athletic director? Not necessarily, but at Rutgers? Absolutely! In light of the university's previous missteps, hiring an AD whose past allegedly includes calling her players "whores" and who was subject to a sex discrimination lawsuit is poor judgment and harmful to a university sports program trying to right itself.

Rutgers continued missteps over the last several months have likely made Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney squeamish. The hierarchy at the university has shown amazing ineptness in handling its big time D1 athletic program. Hermann should have the decency to resign from her post, and save Rutgers another black eye by having to remove her after just weeks on the job. But don't count on that happening.

What has become a catastrophe for Rutgers has also become an embarrassment for the tri-state's college sports reputation. Unlike many states across the Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest, New York is primarily known for its professional sports teams. The Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Knicks, Nets, Rangers and Islanders define New York area athletics.

It's different in Columbus, Ohio, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Norman, Oklahoma. These are college sports towns. But when most college sports fans think about New York area college sports, Rutgers likely comes to mind. The rest of the country laughs when they hear 'New York' and 'college sports' in the same sentence. As a college sports fan, I can't blame them if those laughs just got louder.

Pete is a lifelong Montauk resident and former sports talk host at 88.7FM WEER. He's currently a Sports Anchor at WCBS 880 radio in NYC. He can be reached via email at Peterfmundo@gmail.com.

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