COLUMBUS: The NCAA landscape has been changing so rapidly, one struggles to keep score. Who is in the Big East? Is there a Big East? Where did Boise State land? Texas Christian? Schools are hurtling hither and yon as Division I leagues are consolidating into superconferences.
The Rutgers saga, which is getting stranger by the day, gives sane people pause to wonder whether all of this is happening too fast. Should the Big Ten be worried?
It was announced last November that Rutgers and Maryland would be joining the Big Ten in 2014, bringing the conference to 14 schools. This redistricting seemed bizarre at first glance, but there was cold calculation involved. It was all about football, and money.
The Big Ten wanted a television presence in the New York-New Jersey and Mid-Atlantic markets. Rutgers needed an escape from the crumbling Big East. Maryland? Why would Maryland leave the Atlantic Coast Conference, which is part of the school’s DNA? Because its athletic department has for years been running a deficit. It was sitting on a mountain of debt, and, according to Sports Illustrated, it is guaranteed at least $100 million in additional revenue in a span of just six years.
Maryland’s athletic department has to be among the worst-run in the country.
Rutgers’ athletic department is, at the moment, among the most scandal-ridden.
First, there was the thing with the hot-headed men’s basketball coach. Mike Rice was caught, on tape, conducting practices in which he threw basketballs at players, shouted homophobic slurs at them and yanked them around by their jerseys.
It was reported that Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti had known of the tape for months but, upon the advice of school lawyers and public-relations advisers, he merely fined and suspended Rice rather than fire him. The university wanted to keep the thing quiet rather than do the right thing. It had its hand forced when the video went viral in April.
Rice was fired. Pernetti, a graduate of Rutgers who had a distinguished career at the school, found a similar fate: He stepped down after a $1.2 million settlement was offered.
Eddie Jordan was hired as the basketball coach, and it seemed like a nice save. Jordan had a career in the NBA as a player and a coach and, as the school trumpeted, was a Rutgers graduate. Problem: Jordan never got his degree.
It was another gaffe, and the hits just keep coming.
The new athletic director, Julie Hermann, was unveiled two weeks ago, soon to be followed by a scathing piece of investigative reporting in Newark, N.J.’s Star-Ledger last weekend. Hermann was accused by some former players of abusing them when she was the women’s volleyball coach at Tennessee in the late 1990s. Among the charges were that Hermann denied them showers or meals after losses.
The report is damning. The Star-Ledger has 11 former players on the record, and it reprinted a 1996 letter in which the women accused Hermann of calling them “whores, alcoholics and learning disabled.” It also quoted a former assistant coach who said that she was fired for getting pregnant.
Hermann does not remember any of this. After Tennessee, she served as an associate athletic director at Louisville, where she was named in a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by fired assistant track coach Mary Banker. Hermann testified at the trial. A jury awarded Banker $300,000, but an appeals court overturned the verdict, saying Banker failed to prove that Louisville had retaliated against her.
Rutgers is standing behind Hermann’s “long record of accomplishment.”
Rutgers President Richard Barchi fired Pernetti for not firing the abusive basketball coach. Barchi is backing Hermann, who was allegedly abusive. Gov. Chris Christie is looking into what is going on at the great state university. Former Gov. Richard Codey wants the president fired.
To the Big Ten, Maryland looks pretty good right now.
Is TCU still available?
The transformation and consolidation of the Division I landscape has to do with football and the money it generates, and the new revenue streams (conference television networks, playoff system, etc.) the sport can tap. In this race to bolster our institutions of higher learning, it is fair to question the integrity of the process, and those who supposedly control it.