Athletics, Academics & Ethics: Why I'm Finally Cutting Ties with Rutgers
Over the last two months, Rutgers has gone from a largely ignored academic institution with mediocre intercollegiate athletics to a national laughingstock.
The state university of New Jersey has become the punch line for late-night talk show hosts and Internet scribes alike. The recent scandal at Rutgers has been a perfect confluence of the problems within college athletics, academics and, well, ethics.
Through it all, I've largely kept my mouth shut, offering the occasional pithy comment on Twitter or talking off the record to friends and family about my disappointment and embarrassment.
It's hard to keep quiet this long.
Rutgers was the longest relationship of my life, aside from the one with my immediate family. I was a part of Rutgers three times longer than my kids have been alive. I was a part of Rutgers for nearly twice as long as I've been married. Rutgers is all I know.
Today was not an easy day. I'm done with all of that now.
I started at Rutgers in 1996, when nobody in the country knew what the hell a Rutgers even was. A year later, I signed up as a student assistant in the sports information office and spent the better part of the next 10 years in that office, working more events than I'd ever care to recall.
I owe everything I've done in my career to my time at Rutgers.
When I started at Rutgers, the athletic department had more than a dozen different logos.
When I left, there was one. Mine. It may just be a giant red "R," but it's my "R"—I made it way back in 2001. It was one of more than 60 versions that new head football coach Greg Schiano chose from to rebrand Rutgers as an athletic department of which he and the entire state of New Jersey could be proud.
After leaving my full-time job at Rutgers in 2007, I was able to continue to work on the publications for the athletic department in a freelance capacity. Until now.
Rutgers really has been part of my identity for my entire adult life. I owe that place a lot, for sure, but it seems those in charge at Rutgers owe us—former students, faculty, staff and the residents of New Jersey—something too. We deserve more than we are getting. Enough is enough.
When the Mike Rice scandal hit and every national pundit in America offered his or her opinion on the matter, I remained noticeably silent. I didn't feel good about it, as I surely had stronger feelings than anyone about what was happening there.
When CNN asked for me to appear on air to talk about the situation, I had to decline, as I feared the conflict of interest working for both Turner and Rutgers put me in a position where I couldn't offer an opinion that was both fair to the viewer and, frankly, wouldn't get me fired from the freelance work I did with the school.
Then athletics director Tim Pernetti was fired.
In my completely and unabashedly biased opinion, the Rutgers board of governors and current president Robert Barchi threw Pernetti under the bus after the Rice scandal.
The university hung Pernetti—and the entire department of athletics—out to dry. I was sickened by the brazenly dismissive way the school and Barchi tried to excuse any culpability from their side of campus.
Things have only gotten worse since that embarrassment of a press conference from Barchi and the board, and I fully expect that trend to continue.
Rutgers handled its search for an athletic director to replace Pernetti in such a slipshod manner that the candidates decided on through a search committee weren't even properly vetted before their hiring.
Regardless of how accomplished Julie Hermann has been in her career and no matter how qualified she is to handle the job of directing Rutgers athletics, anyone with any specter of impropriety on his or her record needed to be immediately eliminated from consideration for the position.
The boosters are mad enough at the university.
How can Rutgers try to sell a hard-line stance on bullying and hire a woman who was accused of exactly the same things the school fired the basketball coach for in the first place?
Even if Hermann didn't do what she has been accused of doing and the members of her old volleyball team are just out to get her all these years later, how can Rutgers go anywhere near a candidate with that sordid past?
Oh, right…the university didn't know about it. The Star-Ledger broke that story, didn't it? Maybe next time, Rutgers will need to hire a search firm to find a more thorough search firm. How much will that cost the taxpayers?
The new president—much like Gov. Chris Christie, who is suddenly letting Rutgers handle its own mess after saying the exact opposite six weeks ago (amazing what campaign season can do to a guy's priorities)—says he wants to clean up Rutgers and vowed to be more hands-on, but somehow he's escaping any culpability this time around?
Who else is left to blame?
I wish Rutgers could go back two months. I wish the university officials would have had the foresight to understand this story was bigger than they ever anticipated.
I wish the president had the fortitude to fire Rice and retain Pernetti, admitting that Pernetti and the athletics department were hampered by bad legal advice from the university counsel and a president who was too busy with a billion-dollar hospital merger to watch a five-minute video that would have avoided all this nonsense in the first place.
Sure, it still would have been a black eye for the department, but it would have survived. Pernetti would have hired a better basketball coach—probably Eddie Jordan—and the boosters would be happy.
Most importantly, this mess with Hermann never would have happened.
Instead, the university panicked, catered to outside pressures to fire Pernetti and created abject chaos. Typical Rutgers.
You know something funny: When my mother used to see someone on the street with a Rutgers "R" on their car, she'd flag them down just to tell them her son created the logo. She doesn't do that anymore.
I'm embarrassed that every time I see something I helped create, it's because of another gross lack of judgment from someone at a school. It's no fun to be a laughingstock, and Rutgers is right back where it was 20 years ago. Hell, this is even worse.
Since I left the campus six years ago, most of the people I worked with have moved on to other jobs or been fired, so the Rutgers athletics department I knew barely exists.
I have no idea how the new people in charge are going to handle their budgets, so the work I did for Rutgers in the last decade or so may have been coming to an end whether I wanted it to or not. But I wanted it to.
I wanted to make that decision, and I feel it's the right time to disassociate myself with that mess.
I still love Rutgers. I still hope the football team makes it to a BCS game. I hope the basketball teams and baseball teams and soccer teams and all the teams do the best they can do. It's not their fault that this mess was created.
I just don't want to be a part of it anymore. I don't want to be embarrassed to be associated with a place that would handle this situation the way it did. I feel bad for my old friends still left in Rutgers athletics.
I wish it were any other school in the country but Rutgers, but it's not. It's my school, and I've been a hypocrite for keeping my mouth shut for so long.
With that, these are my thoughts on the situation at Rutgers. Sorry it took so long for me to get my head out of my own ass. Maybe the board of governors and the university president will finally do the same.
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