A HERO Sports Column by Creighton Rabs
The State University of New Jersey’s college football program is in major turmoil.
A slew of current and former Rutgers football players appear to be spending more time breaking the law than breaking open their textbooks, or playbooks for that matter.
The latest round of problems began on Sept. 4, when police charged five active members of the Rutgers football team – cornerbacks Nadir Barnwell, Andre Boggs and Ruhann Peele, defensive back Delon Stephenson, and fullback Rahzonn Gross – with robbery and related charges stemming from a series of home invasions and assaults on and near the New Brunswick campus, according to the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger.
Boggs, of Coatesville, Pa., remains behind bars in lieu of $500,000 bond for his alleged role in a home invasion and a gang assault which his four teammates are also accused of participating in.
Barnwell, who had previously been charged with DUI according to the Star-Ledger, Gross, Peele and Stephenson have since been released on bond.
But wait, there’s more.
Following last Saturday’s 37-34 loss to Washington State, police charged Rutgers’ star wideout Leonte Carroo with domestic violence assault for allegedly “picking her [the alleged victim] up and slamming her down on a concrete surface, injuring her left hip, both palms, left elbow and left side of the head,” according to the the Bergen Record of Hackensack, N.J.
It says something that the Scarlet Knights’ loss to Washington State, a team upset by FCS squad Portland State on their own home field a week prior, wasn’t the worst thing that happened to the team that day.
Granted, many FBS programs, particularly among the Power Five conferences, have had multiple players charged with crimes over the past three decades. Yet, for these arrests and Flood’s suspension to come within weeks of each other is particularly troubling on so many fronts.
It’s easy to pass the blame for these scandals on Flood, in his fourth year as head coach of the Scarlet Knights. If nothing else, he at least has dismissed or indefinitely suspended players immediately after their arrests.
However, Flood is currently serving a three-game suspension following an internal investigation after allegedly contacting a professor on behalf of Barnwell after he was ruled academically ineligible.
But, there’s a lot of blame to go around, both within the New Brunswick-Piscataway campuses which comprise Rutgers and beyond.
JULIE HERMANN’S BORROWED TIME?
Julie Hermann has been the Athletic Director at Rutgers since her predecessor was fired during the Mike Rice scandal of 2013. For those who don’t remember, Rice was fired after allegations that he physically abused several players. Hermann hasn’t exactly endeared herself to the Rutgers fan base or the media which covers the program.
Her latest statement may not have been controversial, and she wasn’t involved in the hiring of Rice, but the institutional control of all Rutgers’ sports teams begins and ends with her.
Following Flood’s suspension, Herman issued this statement:
“As the leader of the athletic department, I felt it was important to meet with the players to express my profound disappointment over recent issues involving the program, but at the same time make the team fully aware that they have my unwavering support.” (Star-Ledger)
Hermann hasn’t so much led the athletic department as she has shot the department in its collective foot with misstatements and controversy.
In April 2014, Hermann openly criticized the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, after being the subject of several negative stories. To wit:
“If they’re not writing headlines that are getting our attention, they’re not selling ads – and they die,” Hermann told the Media Ethics and Law class. “And the Ledger almost died in June, right?”
“They might die again next month,” a student said.
“That would be great,” she replied. “I’m going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive.” (Steve Politi, Star-Ledger)
To add insult to injury, The Somerville (N.J.) Courier-News called for Hermann’s resignation last September after she reportedly made a “tasteless remark” regarding the Jerry Sandusky scandal and also mishandled abuse allegations made by a former Rutgers football player.
To further muddy the situational waters, Hermann fired the school’s long-time sports information director after the team’s appearance in the Quick Lane Bowl.
“Essentially, Hermann couldn’t fire the media so she fired the media guy, and the departure of the popular SID left many in the department stunned and angry,” Politi wrote in a December column.
If this is the face of Rutgers athletics, then something smells rotten in Piscataway.
PRIORITIES MUCH, GOV?
When Chris Christie was elected governor of New Jersey in 2009, he came into office with a reputation as an aggressive federal prosecutor who attacked corruption in many levels of New Jersey state government.
Now, amid word of the latest scandals, Christie, who appoints members of Rutgers’ board of governors, appears more concerned with his presidential run and palling around with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones than he is about cleaning up the mess in Piscataway.
Take these comments as reported by Gannett New Jersey on Monday (emphasis added):
“I have a president there. I have a Board of Governors. If they need my help or they want my advice, they’ll call. And if I see something that I think is completely outrageous, I’ll call them. But, they’re dealing with disciplinary problems with teenagers. This is not shocking. I’m a father of four. Having disciplinary problems with teenagers is the normal course on a college campus.”
No, Governor, “disciplinary problems” would be getting caught with a couple beers in a dorm room. But, please, do go on (again, emphasis added):
“The breathless media coverage of all this, and every time there’s a problem, it’s some indication of some problem, some deep-seated problem at Rutgers. Man, you guys ‘gotta find something else to do. And I certainly have a lot more important things to do than worry about wide receiver was suspended for a few games recently. Being governor of New Jersey, running for president is a little more important than that.”
Considering that the wide receiver in question, Carroo, is charged with assaulting his girlfriend, statements like these aren’t exactly going to endear Christie, the former federal prosecutor, with female voters in New Jersey or beyond.
Considering that Christie effectively controls Rutgers’ Board of Governors (under New Jersey law, the governor nominates eight of the 15 members, subject to state senate confirmation; the remaining seven members are nominated by the school’s 45 member Board of Trustees, of whom the governor appoints five members), he has an obligation to take these matters seriously.
Considering his popularity is dropping within the Garden State, Christie might want to take a more proactive approach in demanding accountability from his state’s flagship college.
BIG MOVE OR BIG MISTAKE?
In the wave of conference realignments within Division I, one would assume Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany and his staff had two big reasons to invite Rutgers into the Big Ten, which once upon a time, actually consisted of ten teams and stretched from a manageable footprint from Iowa and Minnesota in the west to Ohio and Michigan in the east.
Those two reasons: New York and Philadelphia.
Granted, the Big Ten already had a foothold in Philadelphia when Penn State joined the league in 1993. But, consider Rutgers’ geographic location within New Jersey.
New Brunswick-Piscataway is right in the middle of New York and Philadelphia, the largest and fourth largest television markets in the nation, respectively. North Jersey (and Central Jersey roughly north of Interstate 195) leans towards the New York market, while South Jersey is more Philadelphia-centric.
You can imagine the vast increase in potential audience for the Big Ten’s various media outlets (including the league’s own television network), plus exposure in two of the largest media markets in the nation played a factor in the Big Ten choosing Rutgers over other established former “Big East” programs such as Connecticut and Syracuse (who ended up in the ACC) or a more geographically friendly addition such as West Virginia (who is now the only Big 12 team located in the Eastern time zone).
Yet, as they say, it takes two to tango. And the move into the Big Ten has come at a financial cost to the university.
As the pressure to keep up with the Ohio States and Michigans of the world increased, Rutgers dramatically increased their athletic spending. Or at least they tried to.
According to a September 2014 report by the Star-Ledger, Rutgers spent $64.1 million on athletics, which the report says ranks last in the Big Ten. By comparison, at least four Big Ten rivals have athletic budgets in excess of $100 million.
The Star-Ledger also reports Rutgers athletics received a subsidy of $28.5 million in 2014, one year after receiving the largest subsidy ever recorded for a Division I program ($47 million), thanks in part to declining revenue and legal fees relating to the Mike Rice fiasco.
SO, WHAT NOW?
There are some painfully obvious steps Rutgers needs to take to cleanse itself of the stench of scandal.
For starters, both Flood and Hermann have to go. Flood’s inability to maintain discipline off the field has brought shame to the school which participated in the first intercollegiate football contest in 1869. The latest arrests of his players, coupled with the internal investigation, is bound to cause a massive, irreparable split between the athletic department and the campus community at large.
Flood, as the face of the Rutgers football program, needs to be held accountable for these transgressions. He needs to go.
As for Hermann, this is not her first rodeo.
Hired to clean up the mess after Rice’s abuse of players, Hermann has made several public relations missteps during her short time in Piscataway. The latest scandals involving the football program needs to be the last straw, enough so that the Board of Governors need to send Hermann packing once and for all.
And if Christie doesn’t want to use his power as Governor of the state of New Jersey to push for a house cleaning, then it’s up to the legislature, specifically the Senate Education Committee or the General Assembly Education Committee, or even the state’s Attorney General or Comptroller, to launch a full and transparent investigation.
Unfortunately, as long as a status quo exists in Division I athletics, change is highly unlikely. Rutgers University, and taxpayers of New Jersey, will suffer in the long run.