EDUCATION

Rutgers Remains Mired in Athletics Controversy While Critics Call for Change

By David Cruz
NJ Today

It could’ve been a great comeback story. A university, trying to recover from the stigma created by an abusive basketball coach, hires its first female athletic director, but even that seemingly good deed would not go unpunished as the university’s designee became the subject of similar abuse allegations. Today, the calls mounted for the university to do something to turn the tide.

“What there has to be is a realization by board of directors and the president of Rutgers University that a mistake was made and have the courage and the integrity to acknowledge that and bring back Tim Pernetti,” Sen. Ray Lesniak said today. “Julie Hermann can go back to her old job; that won’t be a problem, and then everything will be going forward in the right direction.”

Lesniak — who is said to be in regular contact with former Athletic Director Tim Pernetti — says the university is adrift and that the future of the athletic department and even the proposed merger with UMDNJ are at risk. But one former governor had some advice for Lesniak and the other politicians who’ve weighed in on the controversy.

“Shut up about this issue,” admonished Tom Kean. “To have every politician advising on what to do at this point is not helpful. As far as the media goes, it shouldn’t be on the first page right now. You can follow it. Were mistakes made? I think so, but that’s not what’s important. Let Rutgers alone.”

That’s pretty much what current Gov. Chris Christie said this week, but, as Rutgers attempted to handle its own business, events continued to spiral beyond the university’s control. Two members of the 1997 volleyball team stepped forward — one on her personal blog and the other on CNN — to reiterate the charges made against Hermann. Then, yesterday Moody’s downgraded Rutgers credit rating, citing concerns over the merger’s impact on the university’s finances. On top of that, even some members of the search committee have questioned Hermann’s vetting. “Let’s not present this as any kind of exemplary process” said one, even as another committee member defended it.

“I’ve had the ability to talk to Julie in the last few days and in my mind, she’s a superb candidate, based on the body of work that she did, both in Louisville and in her coaching career,” said Candy Straight, who served on the executive search committee, “and I have the utmost confidence that she will be a great athletic director at Rutgers University.”

Late today, Senate President Steve Sweeney met with Rutgers President Robert Barchi but wouldn’t discuss details of their conversation.

Questions are even being raised about whether the search committee — in its desire to make a historic choice — chose to overlook some obvious red flags. In the face of continued silence from the university, that’s probably not the last theory that will be floated about how Rutgers managed to turn a difficult situation into a full-blown controversy.