Surprise, surprise, the big news in college sports is scandal in the Big Ten.
Rutgers isn’t competing in the Big Ten yet, but the ribbon is already cut. There’s no going back now.
Ohio State’s tattoo scandal was bad. Penn State’s Sandusky scandal was much, much worse. But for sheer administrative bloopers, it’s hard to beat Rutgers. I’m picturing a new reality show on Channel 438 — “Punk’d in Piscataway.”
In case you missed, it, Rutgers fired an athletic director because he failed to fire an abusive basketball coach, then Rutgers hired a new A.D. who … drumroll please … used to be an abusive volleyball coach! Hey-o!
Anyway, ESPN’s Dana O’Neil breaks down the details. Forbes says the Big Ten shares in Rutgers’ failings. New Jersey columnist Steve Politi takes Chris Christie to task for taking a hands-off approach to the Rutgers mess.
And new this morning, Tara Sullivan shows how the embattled president got a little hasty with the hiring process while the Star-Ledger sheds more light on the Tennessee volleyball players who broke this open.
This story has plenty of knots, and it’ll take a few weeks — if not months — to unwind. But let me take a whack at the Big Ten perspective.
Jim Delany is possibly the most powerful man in college athletics. He is, for good reason, well-respected by his administrators and coaches.
However, the addition of Rutgers and Maryland last fall was unpopular in Big Ten country, especially here on the western front. He took a culturally and geographically cohesive league and made it, well, awkward. He added two athletic departments that do nothing to bolster the Big Ten’s competitive reputation. He did so primarily in order to make his rich conference even richer.
I doubt Delany has lost any sleep over Tim Pernetti and Julie Hermann. I doubt it will affect the bottom line at the next round of TV negotiations. But the conference and its commissioner have moved toward thinner ice here.
The essence of conference affiliation is feeling good about where you hang your hat. If a coach at Minnesota or Iowa looks across the room at the next league meeting and wonders, “Why did we water down this wonderful league by inviting him/her,” that’s a problem. If an administrator or booster at Nebraska says, “Why did the Big Ten give Maryland a sweetheart deal and not us?”, that’s a problem.
If a Wisconsin or Michigan fan looks at the schedule and says, “I’m not going to use my tickets Saturday, it’s just Rutgers,” that’s a problem. If, five years from now, a president at Ohio State says, “Wait a second, the New York TV market didn’t deliver as promised,” that’s a problem.
Delany has made some good moves the past year, compromising on the college football playoff, reshuffling Big Ten divisions, among others. But his expansion to the East Coast threatens to destabilize his proud league. Not so much tangibly, but intangibly.
Bottom line: Nebraskans are new to the league, but they invested a great deal to be here. They turned their backs on friends and traditions and Great Plains highways that felt like home.
It would be cruelly ironic if the place once hailed as the Big Red Promised Land turned out to be a Jersey swamp.
>> Last fall after Harvey Perlman chose Shawn Eichorst as his new athletic director, the chancellor met with the media. There were lots of questions about the search process, about Tom Osborne, etc. I asked Perlman about Eichorst’s reputation in Miami as the “invisible athletic director,” criticisms I later addressed in a January profile.
Perlman’s response: He didn’t know much about it. He hadn’t spoken to Miami officials, coaches or boosters about Eichorst.
How is that possible, I thought. How does the man in charge — before a critical hire — not look deeper into his leading candidate’s record, especially when it was Eichorst’s only stint as a Division I athletic director?
The necessary secrecy of the search precluded him from making those phone calls, Perlman said. When you’re considering a major institution’s A.D., you can’t just ask the school president or a big-time booster for a job evaluation.
Perlman knew that Eichorst wasn’t around when Miami’s NCAA problems began. He didn’t know, however, what Miami folks thought of Eichorst’s performance in 18 months on the job.
To me, it was a fascinating glimpse into high-profile searches for coaches and administrators. They aren’t transparent or thorough. They often don’t seek opposing opinions. Administrators face pressure to get them done quickly and quietly. They hire a search firm, get a few recommendations (from people like Barry Alvarez, Eichorst’s former boss) and call it good.
I’m not saying Perlman made a bad hire. I’m not saying Eichorst has skeletons in his closet. I’m saying that in making 10-15 phone calls to Eichorst’s friends and critics, I probably knew more about him than Perlman did.
Julie Hermann’s skeletons were uncovered through profile reporting — calling old colleagues, friends and acquaintances and asking simple questions: What do you remember? What was she like?
Yes, the Rutgers president screwed up in making a hasty decision. But my guess is his search wasn’t much different than the searches of administrators across the country. The difference is, he works at Rutgers, where things tend to go very, very badly.
>> The Kansas City Royals had plane troubles and had to take a bus to St. Louis for tonight’s game. Seriously, what else could go wrong.
A few weeks, I declared my newfound interest in the Royals, based largely on their bevy of young talent. Well, that young talent is playing like a team that rides a bus in Double-A.
Seventeen losses in 21 games!?! Here’s a few of the most appalling facts:
Oakland is third-to-last in the AL in home runs with 51. Minnesota is second-to-last with 38. Kansas City has 28!
Oakland and Boston have 213 and 210 walks. Kansas City has 122, one more than the last-place White Sox. Pretty hard to score runs when you’re at the bottom in home runs and walks.
Here’s another gem: Dayton Moore took over in June 2006. The undisputed best two players in the Royals order (Alex Gordon and Billy Butler) were in the organization before Moore arrived.
Gordon, by the way, is having a career year. He’s on pace to hit .333 with 225 hits, 106 runs, 102 RBI, 20 homers and .870 OPS. The way his team is playing, nobody will even notice.
>> Interesting emails show the Big Ten’s distaste for NCAA recruiting proposals last year.
>> Expert storytelling by Eli Saslow on the Minnesota State Mankato football coach and the child pornography allegations that ruined his career.
>> Joe Posnanski looks at which current athletes belong in the G.O.A.T. discussion.
>> Tommy Tomlinson studies the incomparable Tim Duncan.
>> Whatever happened to the lovable Dwyane Wade?
>> Deadspin breaks down the awful officiating in the Heat-Pacers game last night.
>> Sometimes you wake up and realize you’re an idiot. This morning, I wrote a column about Omaha Central basketball and the other brilliant high school teams of the past nine months. It was a rather epic school year. Anyway, I noted Central’s close losses to Cal Poly and Whitney Young in Florida. I omitted the Eagles’ win over Oak Hill. Brain cramp. The lesson: Even the most mediocre sportswriters make mistakes.
>> Final thought: The College Football Playoff is accepting submissions (from conferences, not fans) for who will comprise the all-important selection committee. Let me put out a name the Big Ten should recommend:
He’s a Division I athletic director without a football program (that’s a plus in this case). He’s a former All-American (no coach would dare say he doesn’t understand the game). He’s worked as a college football analyst (he’d have no problems handling criticism or presenting an articulate argument for his views, which is a necessity).
Frankly, I can’t imagine a more qualified candidate. Am I wrong?