Rutgers back to being a punch line

Originally Published: May 28, 2013
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

After the incriminating videos of former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice surfaced, the enraged reactions boiled down to two simple questions:

Who treats people like that? How could this happen?

Now at least we can answer the second.

It can happen if it happens at Rutgers, where the administration has the cognitive awareness of a piece of Tupperware, where the vetting process is done by Inspector Clouseau and where the leadership motto is best summarized by the only other entity to trash the reputation of New Jersey better than the state university:

"I'm not a phenomenon. I'm a train wreck," Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, of "Jersey Shore" infamy, who could be speaking on behalf of Rutgers president Robert Barchi.

The New York Times pounded the latest and perhaps final nail into the coffin of Julie Hermann's Rutgers career (although we do have a bit of a tree-falling question here: Can a career be over before it technically begins?), with details about yet another lawsuit involving Hermann, this from her years at the University of Louisville.

[+] EnlargeJulie Hermann and Robert Barchi
Rich Schultz /Getty ImagesRutgers has completely bungled the Julie Hermann hiring process.

Frankly, I have a harder time finding fault with Hermann here than with the first allegations from her time at the University of Tennessee. She, in fact, is sympathetic to former assistant track coach Mary Banker at first and if there is an alleged villain at Louisville, it is the would-be Neanderthal dressed in a caveman loincloth parading as a men's track coach.

The real problem here, as it has been since March when the news first broke about Rice, is Rutgers and, more specifically, the people in charge at the State University of New Jersey.

After the firestorm surrounding Rice's exodus and the dismissal of athletic director Tim Pernetti, the university had one charge: To get these searches right. To find people beyond reproach, with careers built on integrity and decency. And while that sounds oxymoronic in the land of college athletics, those people actually do exist.

Instead, Rutgers took a flier on a woman with two lawsuits filed against her and a team that accused her of the same horrific cruelty that got Rice rightfully canned. Then it hoped no one would notice or, if they did, no one would care.

After Hermann discussed her Louisville lawsuit with the search committee chairman and her Tennessee troubles with the search firm, Rutgers had two choices.

Either go to the next person on its wish list, one with less baggage than Hermann -- the smart and easy decision.

Or if the university was that hell bent on hiring her, convinced she was the right woman for the job, it needed to confront her past head on.

We all make mistakes. Maybe Hermann realized how poorly she behaved as the head coach at Tennessee and maybe, hopefully, that's made her even less tolerant of abusive behavior from coaches.

That's palatable. So say it. Say it up front and handle it. Sports not only tolerate reformed sinners; sports welcome them. Liars are less appealing. There's a reason we've forgiven Jason "Steroids? Yep, did it. Sorry" Giambi and not Alex "Who me?" Rodriguez.

Instead, Hermann went with the teenager caught with an empty beer can defense when confronted about her treatment of both the Tennessee volleyball team and the incriminating speech she gave at her former assistant coach's wedding. What meeting? What wedding? I don't remember.

Trust me, no woman forgets being a bridesmaid, especially in the 1980s and '90s. Taffeta memories have the shelf life of a cockroach.

And the university effectively shrugged.

Yet even after that debacle, even after the Memorial Day Miracle when Barchi awoke still gainfully employed, Rutgers did nothing to confront the rest of the skeletons tumbling out of Hermann's closet.

What are the odds someone might find out about the Louisville lawsuit, after all? Not like anyone is checking this stuff.

Or has Google.

And so here we are. Rather than putting an ugly chapter to bed, Rutgers keeps authoring new ones.

A school that hasn't done much to earn sports headlines since that first football game against Princeton, the State University of New Jersey, its mere name usually a gift for joke writers, finally found itself invited to the cool kids' table when it was added to the Big Ten.

And now Rutgers is right back where it started -- in the dunce's corner, one punch line after another, a chronic palm to the forehead slap.

It is Snooki, minus the phenomenon.

Rutgers is just a train wreck.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball

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