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Rutgers Must Learn from the Illinois Situation

The future of the Rutgers athletic department and more specifically, its football program, is no laughing matter!

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, the University of Illinois released their findings of the investigation of former football head coach Tim Beckman's alleged abuse of players.  The report showed multiple examples of abuse and a lack of regard for the safety of his players, which ultimately led to Illinois dismissing their athletic director Mike Thomas.  It was the necessary and correct decision.  The allegations have nothing in common with the current situation with the football program at Rutgers. However, the lack of power structure currently in place at Illinois should be a cautionary tale for the Rutgers administration and one that they must avoid!

Illinois currently has an interim president, an interim athletic director and an interim head football coach.  The reality is there is a lack of stability and decision making authority through multiple levels at a university that desperately needs both.  The timing is unfortunate. Credit the powers that be at Illinois for making the right decisions and not the convenient ones. However, their current situation is a perfect example for why Rutgers needs to define a long term plan and position themselves for a better future in regards to athletics, starting with the football program.

There is a good chance that President Barchi will retire at the end of the 2016-2017 school year, which is only 18 months away. He said as much in this interview last year. By that time, the university merger with the medical school will be complete and Rutgers will be three years into their transition to the Big Ten.  Barchi will be 70 years old and his academic legacy will be complete.  It makes sense for him to retire and enjoy the rest of his life after a distinguished and successful career.  Say what you will about Barchi and his apathy for athletics, there is no question he is a highly intelligent man who has made contributions to Rutgers that will benefit the university for decades to come. The fact that he has consistently placed a low value on athletics is unfortunate, but also should not be surprising based on his background.

The Illinois situation is relevant to Rutgers because a definitive timeline is in effect and the clock is ticking.  Barchi most likely has 18 months left and then a new president will take over.  Rutgers has a football problem and there is concern that Barchi does not want to engage in replacing the head coach before his exit. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether coach Kyle Flood will return next season, no matter how this current season finishes. However, when you realize Barchi's timeline and the potential for him not wanting to get involved, why would the end of next season be any different? Flood is on contract through 2018, making the odds of him being removed this time next year even smaller with Barchi's likely imminent departure. Even if Flood has another losing season in 2016, with a transition from Barchi to a new university president in summer of 2017, it's possible Flood would start or even complete the 2017 season.

The biggest factor in that potential timeline is what does the administration think of athletic director Julie Hermann? There is no question that her voice and public presence have been pushed to the background.  The only time we hear from her anymore are in carefully crafted, short statements.  This is completely intentional and signals a lack of confidence from the administration and president Barchi.  It was Barchi, and not Hermann, who released the report on the Kyle Flood email investigation.  It was Barchi who appeared on the Big Ten Network to discuss the suspension of Flood, not Hermann.  It is rare to have a president and not the athletic director be the face of an athletic suspension. Considering Flood reports to Hermann and that Barchi essentially handled it, there is a strong likelihood that he didn't allow her to handle it herself.

This begs the question, if the administration and Barchi don't have confidence in Hermann, why is she still the athletic director? If she is doing a good job behind the scenes, reducing the subsidy, increasing donations and improving the department overall, this should be promoted loudly.  There are many things you can question about Hermann during her tenure at Rutgers, but there is no doubt she wants to win.  She is experienced in knowing that winning cures many ills within an athletic department, learning firsthand at Louisville.

Does Hermann believe in Flood as the head coach of the football program?  Does she have the authority to act if the answer is no?  Remember, Flood was hired by former athletic director Tim Pernetti and not Hermann.  Every athletic director wants their own hire in high profile coaching positions.  Eddie Jordan being hired before Hermann's tenure does not apply in this case, as he is a distinguished alumni and loyal son of Rutgers.  But Flood does apply, and he has done nothing but hurt his case as the long term solution for the football program this year with multiple mistakes. The fanbase is growing more disgruntled with every loss and Flood no longer has his integrity, once his calling card, to promote after his suspension for academic misconduct.

Which leads us back to the Illinois situation.  We don't know what the current plan or sentiment of the current Rutgers administration is.  There is a chance that Barchi and the board of governors is happy with Hermann and that she is happy with Flood.  However, if Hermann wants to make a change and replace Flood, Rutgers needs to act now.  If Barchi and the administration don't think Hermann is the long term answer as the athletic director, replace her now. Keep Flood for the time being and hire a new athletic director who can then replace him. The longer they wait, the more potential there is to harm the entire athletic department in the long run by wasting precious time.

Otherwise let her do her job, and I believe she wants to make a change. It's completely understandable based on Dr. Barchi's background and timeline, that he would have no interest in making additional changes with the athletic director and the most prominent athletic coaching position in the department. Especially after it only being less than three years removed from the Mike Rice scandal. However, Barchi should understand, fairly or unfairly, he is a part of this mess now too.  His place and legacy in academia is safe and secure, as is deserved. Unfortunately, as president the responsibilities extend beyond academia. The public will remember the mess he left the athletic department in, if he leaves it in it's current state.

Perhaps Barchi does believe in Hermann and has authorized her to make whatever decision she wants regarding Floods tenure as head football coach.  If that is the case, we should know in about three weeks after the football season ends on how she feels.  If Hermann fires Flood, we know for sure the university backs her as athletic director and is letting her shape the future of the football program.  If Hermann issues a vote of confidence for Flood after the season, we have to believe the administration supports both of them.

If the Board of Governors wants a change, they need to urge Barchi to act now.  Replace the athletic director first and then let them replace the football coach.  Waiting and hoping for results to change will do nothing but put progress on hold.  The potential for Rutgers to one day be in the situation Illinois finds itself in today should be the worst fear for anyone who cares about Rutgers and its athletics.  Illinois has no president, athletic director or football coach at the moment.  The long term vision of that Big Ten institution is both on hold as a university and for its athletic department. Rutgers is behind most other Big Ten schools already in regards to athletics, due to the wait for a full conference share until 2021.  Barchi, unfortunately for him, would be remembered by many for leaving the state of the athletics department a complete mess. The biggest question of all is does he really care?  A proud alumni and fanbase can only hope!