Finally, the media is picking up on the facts about the Nelligan Sports payments, and Rutgers is pushing back.
Though information that has been made public in recent weeks has drawn headlines, other public information has been overlooked, Rutgers athletic director Bob Mulcahy said yesterday.
Referencing the content of previous university-issued press releases and one 2006 newspaper story, Mulcahy said recent revelations that part of football coach Greg Schiano's compensation comes from Nelligan Sports Marketing should not have come as a shock because the school's relationship with the firm had been previously documented.
"There's a press release talking about the contract and sponsorship, and it was in the Star-Ledger article," he said. The Star-Ledger of Newark, he pointed out, reported in 2006 that Rutgers had "used public money to pay Schiano $250,000 and $625,000 from Nelligan Corporate Sponsorship money" in the seven-year contract he signed in 2005.
Mulcahy has acknowledged that the university did not publicize a 2007 addendum to Schiano's contract - revealed in a Star-Ledger report last week - that includes a direct payment from Nelligan of $250,000. But he pointed yesterday to a 2005 press release announcing Schiano's seven-year contract that did not mention Nelligan by name, but that said "the new contract also increases Schiano's guaranteed income from private sources from $325,000 (in 2005) to $625,000 in 2006 and $750,000 by 2012."
Not specifically mentioned in this article is the fact that Rutgers fans played a significant role in getting to the bottom of this story. A poster on the NJO forums, twostrikes, had the good fortune to remember a 2006 article in the Star Ledger that originally detailed the payments to Nelligan. He took the initiative to email the piece's author, Matthew Futterman, formerly of the Star Ledger, now of the Wall Street Journal, and Futterman was kind enough to respond with a copy of his 2006 article. Since the Star Ledger, specifically Margolin and Sherman, was responsible for launching this story in the first place, Futterman's article directly contradicts their claim of "secret" payments.
Latching on to this revelation, out of righteous indignation, Rutgers fans on the internet began angrily pushing back against the Ledger. It is well known that every major athletic department in the country assigns staffers to monitor press coverage, specifically of the internet. The athletic director likely learned of this reports as they began to rise up the food chain, or perhaps took a look at one of the flurry of emails filling his or the SID's inbox.
The mere fact that there were no improprieties involved led university President Richard McCormick to quickly accede to requests from the state comptroller's office, and to announce that an internal oversight committee would be examining athletic department finances. Overall, these proposals are a mixed bag. They don't want to generate the impression that they have nothing to hide; however, the mere presence of an investigation will always generate a lingering veneer of suspicion.
Frankly, they were too defensive in handling this from the start. Mulcahy and McCormick did not have all of the facts initially. Hence, they responded defensively, and I think the critics started smelling blood. They may have overreached though, and this news could definitely cause a backlash that may help to heal the aspects of RU's image that have been tarnished during this whole ordeal.
Regarding the Star-Ledger's budget cuts, I'm not gleefully dancing on their grave here. Does anyone honestly think that Tom Luicci is happy that he might lose some of the access that he's worked so hard to cultivate? As bad as they have completely and utterly bungled this story, it's not a good thing for Rutgers to have one of the major press outlets in New Jersey go under.