I would like to thank Chas Rich of Pittblather/AOL Fanhouse for linking here yesterday. I'd like to expound on two points that he made though:
The one thing that stands out, though, is the utter cluelessness from the Rutgers Athletic Department. The stories started breaking on July 22. It took until August 1 before Rutgers finally got around to making it known that the escape clause in the contract didn't exist. They took that long to find the old press releases and Star-Ledger articles talking about the money coming from Nelligan to help pay for Schiano's contract.
The athletic department never let the school president know about this, and allowed him to apologize over the lack of transparency and let him confirm a clause that never got into the final contract.
Absolutely, 100% correct. The irony of this situation is that I've been forced to defend Bob Mulcahy, someone who I think has had a mediocre at best tenure. This is an AD who was primarily hired for his deep connections in Trenton. His first choice in 2001 to replace Terry Shea was Gary Darnell. New Jersey high school coaches had to beg and plead with him to even give Schiano an interview. He had no experience in college athletics, and it shows in the miserable state of the Rutgers basketball program, and his comprehensive failure to line up a quality OOC schedule for Rutgers. Mulcahy should have immediately briefed Richard McCormick and Jon Corzine to avoid any further confusion. Worse still, is the ironclad grip in which Rutgers controls all information about their football program. That only gives the press a reason to start digging around.
However, this explanation leaves out a certain callousness on the part of the Star-Ledger. What transpired is likely this: it's believed that disgruntled Board of Governors member George Zoffinger, a vocal opponent of stadium expansion, leaked an old revision of Schiano's contract from late 2006 that was never finalized. Margolin and Sherman did not confirm the story with Mulcahy, and ran with it and news of the Nelligan deal.
Naturally Rutgers fans are in righteous fury at the paper for having "dragged Rutgers through the mud." The standard fan response when a paper does a series that is anything less than flattering to a program. Sure, the stories got a lot of the other details right, but because they got parts wrong all is invalidated. Again, this is not unique. Every fanbase tends to have this sort of reaction.
You have to consider the current economic climate in New Jersey: even a perception that Rutgers was behaving unethically, or enriching its football program on the back of academics or the entire state would have, justly, led to a firestorm of criticism that could have brought down all the progress that the football team has made during the past few years. It's easy to conclude that Rutgers fans have a thin skin in response to this story. Not really, but we sure like to hear the sound of fingers hitting keyboards.
Most Rutgers fans did not initially react with hostility to the Star-Ledger. They probably assumed that the story was true. Our reaction was "why is a $250,000 buyout that big of a deal anyway", and then the rage of a thousand suns at newspapers and blogs around the country spinning this into another cliched "Greg Schiano is this close to leaving" yarn.
We're angry at the Star-Ledger now because they did not do basic fact-checking on the Nelligan payments story, ignoring a story from 2006 (which I posted last week), confirming details of the payments from Nelligan to Schiano. That response was exacerbated by their refusal to print a retraction when corrected by the AD.
Asked by myself, "So there's no such addendum; that document doesn't exist?'' Mulcahy responded: "His contract and the three side letters, that's all that's been ever executed. And it was submitted. And I gave a written statement to that effect, and they (the Star-Ledger) refused to print it.''
And then on Sunday, when I was casually reading the Star-Ledger at home, and read this editorial stubbornly insisting that the false details were true, that's when I really lost it.
In conclusion, I'm happy that New Jersey has a strong, independent press that shines a sorely-needed light on corruption and graft. Margolin and Sherman were commended last year for their series of articles exposing UMDNJ, a facility affiliated with Rutgers University. While peeved that they didn't check the Futterman story that had been published by their own paper, I could have lived with their initial series of articles as a necessary evil in a state that badly needs more transparency and good governance. What is not acceptable is the behavior of the Star-Ledger during the past week in response to the fallout from the articles.
The only acceptable response at this point is for the Star-Ledger to apologize. it's tempting to call for a boycott, but that not only would hurt beatwriter Tom Luicci (who has been as pro-Rutgers as conceivably possible during the past three seasons), but it would be petty, and imply could that Rutgers has something to hide. No, the next time a SL reporter shows up in any capacity, Rutgers should cooperate fully, with a smile on their faces. Being hostile to the press will only lead to similar incidents in the future. Acknowledging them as necessary, and currying their favor, is obviously the best method of ensuring favorable coverage in the future.
More than that, I am sick to death of this story and want it to go away. It should have never been reported, it should have never been picked up by the national media, but there's nothing that can change that now. The football team reported yesterday, and that's the only thing I, and any Rutgers fan, wants to hear about right now. We want endless, cliched platitudes from Greg Schiano. We want to hear about that 200 pound safety that's being moved to defensive tackle. We want affirmation from Ray Rice tearing up a NFL training camp.
Barring any further developments*, this matter is now closed.
*Further developments include ESPN giving me a lot of money to write stupid columns on their website.