The Scarlet Letter: It’s Time for New Leadership at Rutgers

There’s an old expression that goes ‘when it rains, it pours,’ and in Piscataway, New Jersey there is torrential downpour. Rutgers athletics have found their way back into the national headlines and, as usual, it is for something negative. This time it is the football team, the university’s golden egg that is wrapped up in the middle. In just the month of September the football team has seen seven players get arrested, five dismissed from the team, and their head coach suspended. Even the 1980s Miami Hurricanes are shaking their head in disappointment.

At their current rate Rutgers is a shoo-in to a repeat win of the Fulmer Cup (named after former Tennessee Volunteer head coach Philip Fulmer this award goes to the team that accumulates the most “points” for citations, arrests, and other violations of the law during the offseason) as well as the biggest flops in Big Ten football. This madness is now the third major incident to happen at the school with Mike Rice (former head basketball coach fired for abusive behavior towards players) and Julie Hermann (countless fumbles including lying to the media) being the other two.

Plain and simple Rutgers University needs a change in leadership. The athletic program has lost its way and has tried to take every shortcut only to instead have fallen flat on their faces. I’m not referring to Athletic Director Julie Hermann or even head football coach Kyle Flood, although both leaving wouldn’t exactly be a loss, but rather to university president Robert Barchi. The following is not coming from someone who just learned about Rutgers, but from someone who was at Rutgers during this time. I was a student at Rutgers from 2010 to 2014 and was there for every bump in the road. So let’s take a look at what years of incompetence add up too.

The Great Flood

Rutgers football was better known as the “birthplace of college football” until about 2006. It was then that a Rutgers football team led by future NFL players Ray Rice, Kenny Britt, and a veteran offensive line went 11–2 in their best season since 1976. That 2006 season included biggest game in program history, their win against a top five-ranked Louisville team in Piscataway (now referred to as the “Pandemonium in Piscataway”). It was then that New York media had a newfound interest in Rutgers football. The university saw dollar signs with this new attention and got hooked.

Since that season the university has made a concerted effort to make the football team the big attraction. From the time I arrived in on campus in 2010, attending football games and caring about football was shoved down my throat. If game day fell on weekday professors would let us out of class early to “get ready” for the football game. The football stadium was renovated — although you wouldn’t notice from the fan experience — and renamed High Points Solution Stadium. The football team received significant jersey upgrades, all conveniently coinciding with tuition spikes (tuition for out-of-state students attending Rutgers University-New Brunswick increased at an average annual rate of 4.5% over the past 5 years per collegefactual.com). It wasn’t that the football program was receiving tuition money, it was raking in money. Rather it was the school taking advantage of the football team’s success as an opportunity to demand more money from the students who presumably were not flocking to the school.

With all these new toys the expectation was for the football team to rise to national prominence as New York City’s football team. That was the plan and for a time a lot of the Rutgers community believed in that plan. To help make the plan come together as quickly as possible the football team started taking players that were talented on the field, but were not what many would consider ideal citizens. These bad decisions have been swept under the rug for the most part, with the football team’s wild behavior relegated to campus rumors.

Fast forward to September 2015. Head coach Kyle Flood is coming off a nice inaugural season in the Big Ten and looking to build on it. That plan took an immediate hit as Flood was forced to dismiss five players — Nadir Barnwell, Andre Boggs, Razohnn Gross, Ruhann Peele and Delon Stephonson — before the season opener after all were arrested in connection with a home invasion and assault. Just this incident alone would be enough to drive a head coach to drink, but the biggest blow would come a week later and involve the best player on the team, Leonte Carroo.

Following a home loss to Washington State, Carroo allegedly got into it with two female fans, and body slammed one of the females. According to NJ.com the star receiver was intervening in an altercation between his girlfriend and a Rutgers football team employee he was previously in a relationship with, and the altercation got heated and ended with the Rutgers employee being slammed to the ground. Carroo was arrested and booked for simple assault (along with his mother, 41-year-old Lavern Carroo) and suspended indefinitely. Now Flood’s team is all but gutted and left for dead. Without Carroo, — the all-time leader in touchdown receptions,–Rutgers’ passing game falls off a cliff and their offense becomes one dimensional. Things couldn’t get any worse for Flood and Rutgers, right? Wrong.

It seems Flood had some dirt under his fingernails as well. Rutgers launched an internal investigation into the head coach and found him guilty of violating university policy by contacting a faculty member in regards to a player’s academic status. The player was Nadir Barnwell, one of the five facing home invasion charges. Rutgers suspended him for three games and added a $50,000 fine for good measure.

Piscataway’s Palin

When I call Julie Hermann “the Sarah Palin of Rutgers” I mean it as a slight. Like the outlandish Palin, the Rutgers Athletic Director has a tendency to say stupid stuff. It’s no fault of Hermann. Anyone who came after Tim Pernetti (the man who oversaw the competitive overhaul of the athletic department and fall guy of the Mike Rice incident) was going to be scrutinized for every little thing they did. Under this scrutiny Hermann has struggled.

The Hermann regime got off to a terrible start. Upon being named AD at Rutgers, former players of Hermann’s at the University of Tennessee claimed she was abusive as their volleyball coach. She allegedly referred to her players as “alcoholics” and “whores.” Now under the national microscope, it was believed that Hermann would be fired, but instead she was backed by President Barchi.

Following that backing Hermann defecated all over it by fumbling the Jevon Tyree bullying incident with the football team. She told the media she talked to Tyree’s parents when she actually did not and the parents came out publicly to refute her statement. To compound this fumble Hermann became invisible to the media, not answering any questions in the aftermath of getting caught in her own lie (the internal investigation by the university came up with no solid evidence against her).

Then came Hermann’s comments to a journalism class stating it would be “great” if the Star-Ledger (the largest newspaper in New Jersey) went out of business in the aftermath of the paper laying off 167 workers. Hermann has not been a fan of the state’s largest newspaper, namely because they call her out for her shortcomings, something all public figures must deal with.

The Powder Keg

If the ‘Pandemonium in Piscataway’ was the single moment Rutgers athletics began its ascension, then the Mike Rice incident is the single moment Rutgers athletics began its dissension. In December 2012 Rutgers suspended the head basketball coach three games and fined him $50,000 (sound familiar?) for abusive behavior towards his players. That was the last we heard about Rice until April 2013 when former assistant coach Eric Murdock leaked videotapes that attached visuals to Rice’s abusive behavior. The national media chastised the university not firing Rice back in December, leading former Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti to fall on the sword and leave along with Rice the very next day following ESPN’s airing of the video on Outside The Lines.

The day right after ESPN’s airing of the tapes the campus was an absolute zoo. More media vans were seen driving down College Ave (the main street on campus) that day then Rutgers buses. I couldn’t get away from the Rice video. Every sports site was talking about it, every general talk show was talking about it, and it spread like a bad computer virus. Since Rice’s firing any top players that were at the university jumped ship, Barchi went on to hire Hermann and former Scarlet Knight Eddie Jordan to replace Rice and Pernetti and Rutgers basketball has gone right back down to being a doormat.

The Teflon Don

Did you see a common theme in all three situations? If you didn’t catch it let me help you out. All three major scandals have occurred with Robert Barchi as president. A good reason for this may be the support Barchi has had from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (Barchi was only person Governor Christie felt shouldn’t lose his job in the Mike Rice incident) since he came into office in 2012. This most recent slew of scandals with the football team is not coming to an end, but instead the tip the iceberg. You can even see in the punishment handed down by Barchi to Rice and Flood are identical (three game suspension and $50,000 fine) and if history repeats itself there will be no one else to look at other than Barchi.

Barchi can fire Hermann and Flood just like he did Pernetti and Rice, but at some point all signs will point to the leader of the whole operation. I’m not sure Barchi is the core of Rutgers’ problems, but the buck starts with him. It is time for the Scarlet Knights to find their proper leader, because Robert Barchi certainly is not that guy.

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Originally published on the Sidelines Magazine October 2015

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