Rutgers' dumpster fire continues to drag down Big Ten

Pat Forde
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On Nov. 19, 2012, Rutgers and Maryland formally accepted somewhat surprising invitations to join the Big Ten conference.

On that day, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany looked like Julia Roberts marrying Lyle Lovett, and John McCain selecting Sarah Palin as a running mate. Nobody could quite see the attraction.

Not yet three years after a day that will live in Big Ten infamy, the Rutgers part of the expansion equation looks even worse than it did then. Far worse. Of all the realignment maneuvers of the past five years, adding the Scarlet Knights is liking signing up for a lifetime case of poison ivy rash.

Rutgers has suspended Kyle Flood three games after he contacted a faculty member over a player's grade. (AP)
Rutgers has suspended Kyle Flood three games after he contacted a faculty member over a player's grade. (AP)

This has been an absolute debacle.

Delany has done a lot of smart things in his long tenure as Big Ten commish. He added Penn State, which was a boon until the Sandusky scandal brought down Joe Paterno and sent the school through a painful period of crisis. He added Nebraska, and that has gone well. He helped create the Big Ten Network, which has been a revenue geyser. He has served the conference well.

But the Rutgers decision goes alongside decades of resistance to a football playoff as the two major splotches on Delany’s resume. He eventually bowed to public pressure and came around to the playoff concept. He might be well-served to evict the stumblebums from New Jersey next, before they can do further damage to the conference’s prestige and reputation.

No, that’s not really going to happen. At least now. Maybe after the next six fiascos in Piscataway.

The latest development was the university’s announcement Wednesday that it is suspending football coach Kyle Flood for the next three games. That’s after a university investigation showed he violated school policies and procedures by contacting and meeting with a professor in attempt to get a player’s grade changed – and get his eligiblity restored.

The president of Rutgers’ faculty union told NJ.com on Wednesday that the three-game suspension is “a slap on the wrist.” It’s hard to disagree with that assessment.

The Rutgers report shows the extent to which Flood went to avoid detection in his dealings with the professor: meeting off-campus; communicating only through private emails; and trying to swear others in the know about the grade-change scheme to secrecy. Not the actions of a man who says he simply didn’t know the rule about contacting a professor, and thus made an honest mistake. Nobody goes to those cloak-and-dagger lengths to keep something out of public view if they think they’re not doing something wrong.

The great cosmic joke of the whole situation is the fact that Flood stuck his neck out for a player who is no longer on the team – and not for academic reasons. Junior cornerback Nadir Barnwell was one of six players kicked off the team earlier this month after being charged with various crimes. Barnwell and three others are charged with assault, and two Scarlet Knights are charged with home invasions.

Five other players were suspended for the first half of the season opener for curfew violations. Among them was Rutgers’ best player, receiver Leonte Carroo, who this week was indefinitely suspended from the team following an arrest for an altercation outside the stadium after the Knights’ loss to Washington State on Saturday. Carroo was charged with simple assault in a domestic violence situation and has entered a plea of not guilty. According to a complaint filed in the case, Carroo allegedly slammed a woman into the concrete outside the football facility.

But, hey, these are merely the most recent reasons why Rutgers has become the laughingstock of college athletics. The school has basically been on a negative roll ever since the Big Ten made its terrible error of inviting in the Knights.

Kyle Flood stands with Rutgers players before a college football game. (AP)
Kyle Flood stands with Rutgers players before a college football game. (AP)

Five days after accepting the Big Ten offer in 2012, the Rutgers football team lost by three touchdowns to Pittsburgh. That was followed by an upset loss to Louisville. A team that was 9-1 finished 9-3 and blew its chance at a BCS bowl bid. Shuffled off to the Russell Athletic Bowl, Rutgers lost to Virginia Tech to end the season on a three-game losing streak.

Since then Rutgers has gone 15-13 in football. But that was simply fabulous compared to the mushroom cloud that appeared over the basketball program four months after accepting the Big Ten invitation.

That was the Mike Rice scandal, in which videotape emerged in 2013 of the basketball coach throwing basketballs at his players, shoving and kicking them and verbally abusing them. The story was salacious enough that it overshadowed the latter stages of the ’13 NCAA tournament. Rice was fired and eventually replaced by Eddie Jordan, a former Rutgers great who – oops! – didn’t actually have a Rutgers degree because he never finished his coursework. Jordan had to go back to school while on the job, adding another layer of punch lines to the program.

Athletic director Tim Pernetti also lost his job as collateral damage in the Rice scandal. But the school might not have fired Pernetti if it knew what it was getting in his successor, Julie Hermann.

By late May 2013, the freshly hired Hermann was trying to fight off accusations that she had been an abusive coach herself, when she led the Tennessee volleyball program in the 1990s. It was also revealed that Hermann was involved in a discrimination lawsuit against Tennessee, in which her former assistant coach, Ginger Hineline, claimed Hermann fired her for becoming pregnant. Hineline was awarded $150,000.

But that was just the past. Hermann’s work at Rutgers has earned her far fewer allies than it has created negative headlines.

So this is the festering sore of an athletic department Jim Delany welcomed with open arms. He’s a Jersey guy, grew up in South Orange, and he’s been obsessed with gaining a Big Ten toehold in the New York market.

Only problem is, the only time the Big Ten’s New York-area school makes news is when it is embarrassing itself. Which, from nearly the day it accepted the infamous invitation, has been all the time.

Julia Roberts at least could divorce Lyle Lovett, and the McCain-Palin ticket was only for a few months. The Big Ten appears to be stuck with the dumpster fire that is Rutgers for a long time to come.