CHICAGO, Ill. – I know it seems cruel to call Rutgers a laughingstock, but …
In April of 2013, less than six months after the Scarlet Knights announced they would join the Big Ten, men’s basketball coach Mike Rice inspired a skit on “Saturday Night Live.”
You could hear the audience chuckle as actress Melissa McCarthy threw basketballs at players, used a Taser on a professor and bloodied the nose of a reporter.
Considering all that’s happened at Rutgers since then — a series of scandals ranging from athlete abuse, botched background checks and insensitive remarks — McCarthy’s portrayal was spot on.
Surely, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany had something else in mind when he talked about reaching East Coast viewers.
“No buyer’s remorse at all,” Delany said during last week’s conference meetings. “When I go to Jersey, I go to New York, I go to support, not to judge.”
This is not as simple as asking Rutgers, which becomes an official Big Ten member on July 1, to get its house in order.
The athletic department is a shambles, a fixer-upper with low re-sale potential.
It just so happens the Scarlet Knights have the most attractive backyard in the neighborhood: Manhattan.
Everybody wants to swim in their pool, even if it means a nasty chlorine burn. And everyone wants an invitation to their potluck, even if the egg salad looks less than appetizing.
“For me, it’s all about New York,” Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague said. “I know they’re not the Yankees. I understand that, but hopefully in the areas where they feel like they’re weak, they’ll improve.”
Teague has the right angle. Rutgers was never seen as a pillar of athletic success. The Scarlet Knights have never finished a football season ranked among the Associated Press top 10. And the men’s basketball team hasn’t appeared in an NCAA Tournament since 1991.
The most respected sports figure on campus is women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer, who led a highly successful Iowa program from 1983 to 1995.
Rutgers was brought into the fold, because it’s a doorway to the nation’s biggest media market.
When Delany revealed in November of 2012 that the Scarlet Knights were joining, along with Maryland, an unnamed television executive told Sports Illustrated the Big Ten could earn $200 million annually from cable subscription fees.
“We’ve made some good changes in this league,” Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said, “from adding Penn State several years ago to Nebraska a few years ago, now moving into the Eastern corridor. “That’s the new Big Ten.”
Rutgers may not seem like a sexy addition, but playing the Scarlet Knights can only boost the University of Iowa’s Q rating.
“There was a long, thought-out strategy and process to whether or not we add schools to the Big Ten,” Hawkeye athletic director Gary Barta said. “And it’s always been about what feels right in terms of like institutions academically, athletically.
“What’s going to get us our greatest breadth, in terms of the country?”
Some will tell you Delany was forced into making a move.
When the Atlantic Coast Conference lured Syracuse and Pittsburgh away from the Big East, the Big Ten was left with dwindling options.
Rutgers was barely on the sporting radar, until the ESPN program “Outside The Lines” ran a video of Rice abusing his players.
That set off a bizarre chain of events that saw Rice fired and athletic director Tim Pernetti forced to resign.
Both of their replacements, however, also became embroiled in controversies. It was revealed that new basketball coach Eddie Jordan, a former Rutgers player, never finished his college degree. New athletic director Julie Hermann was found to have been heavy-handed in her dealings as a volleyball coach at Tennessee.
The run of negative publicity took another turn this week when quarterback Philip Nelson, a transfer from Minnesota who never played for the Scarlet Knights, was arrested on a felony assault charge after kicking a man in the head.
Has any school ever brought this much baggage into a new conference?
“They have boards of trustees, they have administrators and they’re fully capable of handling personnel matters,” Delany said. “I come to support and enhance the integration of Rutgers, but not to make any particular judgements on personnel decisions.”
Delany and his cohorts are willing to cut Rutgers plenty of slack, because of an upgrade in profits and exposure.
But I’m not sure everybody outside the Big Ten is sold on the Scarlet Knights. And I’m starting to wonder if the potential glitz is worth the accumulating grime.
Andrew Logue has been with the Register for two decades and covers Hawkeye football and sports media. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLogue.
FERENTZ: NEWCOMERS MARYLAND, RUTGERS WILL BE GOOD FIT OVER TIME
Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz still considers Rutgers and Maryland a good fit for the Big Ten Conference.
Those schools join the league officially on July 1.
“Global is an exaggeration, but things have really changed in college football,” Ferentz said. “So to me it’s more a matter of perception, and how people look at it. We’ll make it fit, just like Penn State fit in and Nebraska fit in. So will Rutgers and Maryland in time. But it will take time.”
Iowa plays at Maryland Oct. 18 this season, and hosts the Terrapins on Oct. 31, 2015. Iowa doesn’t play Rutgers until the 2016 season.
“It’s going to feel a little different, because we’ve never been to either of those places,” Ferentz said.
Rutgers’ recent run of negative issues did get Ferentz a quarterback. Tyler Wiegers, from Country Day High School in suburban Detroit, originally committed to the Scarlet Knights. He had a change of heart and signed with Iowa in February.
“There were definitely some issues going on there (at Rutgers), and they didn’t have a great season,” Wiegers told the Register in February. “So my family and I talked it over when the season ended, and we felt it would be better to go into a situation that was going to be more stable.”
Category: Hawkeye news