It happens every offseason. In the dead of Spring/Summer, with nary a peep of substantial football news, a scandal will arise. Go back each previous year, and you can read on and on about tattoos, improper benefits, illegal recruiting, etc. As a fan of RU, you probably have said to yourself, "that will never happen here. Not with this program." With the squeaky clean program of Greg Schiano and now Kyle Flood, the only news that ever came out of Piscataway was the stellar APR grades from the student athletes (like clockwork). All it took to undo all of that was one coach and his inability to control his emotions.
The Rutgers athletic department is not the mess right now, it's only perceived to be. The problem goes far beyond sports, actually. Political ploys have created a mess directly attributed to the school administration, and at the moment, the best course of action is actually to do nothing. I say this because as you will see, any move or action by the school administration (and not the athletic department) results in another black eye for the State University.
Tim Pernetti was a great athletic director for Rutgers, and it is believable that many on the inside believed that he tried to do the right thing: reprimand a coach that crossed the line between coaching and abuse, and attempt to rehabilitate that man and make him a better person. He did his due diligence, speaking to players, coaches, and others, looking for a reason to believe that the man who would eventually get him fired was a menace to student athletes everywhere. Was Mike Rice a menace? Maybe. I don't know him personally, but I do remember a man who risked his life for charity, and a man whose own players came to his defense amid the scandal. To pontificate on this is pointless, since this event seems ages ago. But it's important to understand that Pernetti was made the scapegoat, since his decision on Mike Rice was supported by the school administration (including President Barchi). Scapegoating Pernetti: Administrative blunder #1.
Pernetti was fired, and an interim AD was appointed to lead a search for a new basketball coach. The search landed on Eddie Jordan, a loyal son of Rutgers who is the last person to lead the Knights basketball team to any hint of eternal glory. This move was widely praised, considering Jordan has an unbelievably great reputation in both the NBA and college basketball. Unfortunately, it was revealed that the school administration failed to award him his degree upon graduation, resulting in the second laughable gaffe by the university in less than 3 months. The "RU Screw": Administrative blunder #2.
Not too long after Eddie Jordan was hired as basketball coach, Julie Hermann, the No. 2 administrator in the Louisville athletic department, was tabbed as the new athletic director to lead Rutgers sports. It seemed like a great hire on paper: overseeing 20+ sports teams, as well as having a big hand in the Yum! Center project and the rise of Louisville sports. From a branding standpoint, Rutgers loved that the school could trumpet her as the first female AD in school history which would show that RU is serious about equal opportunity at every level.
Hermann's tenure is off to a disastrous start to say the least. She is being painted as a cruel woman who treated her own players when she was coach similar to how Mike Rice handled his players. Arguably, it looks worse since there aren't any reports of former players defending what she did a la Mike Rice. Reports of politicking by Kate Sweeney to get Hermann fast-tracked into the position only makes matters worse, and furthermore can set back the women's executive movement decades. Sweeney had one goal, and that was to make sure her golden candidate got the gig above anyone else, regardless of past history. Biased candidate: Administrative blunder #3.
In reality, Hermann's track record at Louisville is actually quite stellar, and the growth and success of that department proves she is capable of leading an institution like Rutgers. Furthermore, the accusations of abuse happened well over a decade ago, and failed to appear while she was at Louisville. Why is she getting blasted by critics now, when she was still in a very important position at her old school? Because it's Rutgers, and the previous blunders are too fresh in everyone's mind to not make a story out of it. Everything that has happened in the RU athletic department is a response to media backlash, including Pernetti's forced exit. Pernetti was more than capable of leading Rutgers athletics, but you cannot, as a state institution, ignore the public discontent. Doing so only prolongs the scandal.
So, what to do with Hermann? President Barchi has given her a vote of confidence, only to have more voices call for his ouster as well. At another time, Barchi's resignation could have easy. Now, though, he is in the middle of a complicated medical school merger that, honestly, is far more important than some decision about the athletic department. In fact, Barchi himself seems to shy away from everything regarding the athletic department (sort of the anti-Gordon Gee approach), preferring to have a hands-off policy with operations. He prefers to keep the athletic budget low, even with all of the new revenue from the B1G set to come in a few years.
What are the options here? Rutgers has a president that would probably love not having an athletic program, while the athletic program is set to join a conference that only ensurs more visibility and recognition. The new athletic director is a hire that resembles the person that started this whole mess to begin with. What should Rutgers do?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I don't really see any better course of action. Pending new evidence, the Hermann scandal is disappearing from SportsCenter, Sports Illustrated, and other outlets of sports news. Tom Jurich, the athletic director at Louisville, only had the highest praise for Hermann when she was selected. Her ability to lead a department doesn't change with her past coming to light. Like I said, this is the offseason, when scrutiny is at full-strength with no actual football news to consume. The athletic department and the university administration will be will be under a heightened level of investigation for a couple of months, but I guarantee that once kickoff comes on the first Saturday of September (last Thursday in August for us AAC folks), this story will be so far in the rearview mirror that the media will be wondering why this much attention was being paid to Rutgers in the first place.
What do you think? Some news out of the Ledger shows why Hermann wasn't immediately booted, and in my opinion, looks pretty credible. Still not convinced by Julie? Leave your thoughts below.