NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- By the time Rutgers University released its long-awaited report Wednesday, detailing a month-long investigation that led to a three-game suspension and $50,000 fine of football coach Kyle Flood, the school was already in full crisis-management mode.
Access to the football team and interim head coach Norries Wilson was shut down this week. Oft-embattled athletic director Julie Hermann, who has a habit of sticking her foot in her mouth, has commented publicly only twice -- both times via email -- since late August, when the problems began surfacing.
Rutgers president Robert Barchi's explanation about the athletic program's latest scandal -- Flood was disciplined for pressuring a teacher to change a player's grade -- couldn't spare the university from an overarching question: Why does the newest Big Ten school again find itself combating charges that something is woefully, systemically wrong?
"This has been going on for years and years," said anthropology professor David Hughes, president of the AAUP-AFT faculty union, in a phone interview Thursday. "That's why faculty is so disillusioned with the athletic department. ... Faculty gets treated like second-class citizens when we do important work too, you know?
"Faculty is disillusioned because the athletic department hasn't earned its keep. We've sold our soul to becoming part of the athletic-entertainment business. ... Yet it's losing money and having its shortfalls covered from the general education fund and student fees."
Rutgers athletics suffered a string of embarrassments in recent years, even before the football program was rocked earlier this month when law enforcement announced that six active players were among 10 people charged with a string of crimes around campus. Cornerback Dre Boggs and fullback Lloyd Terry have been charged in home invasions; cornerback Nadir Barnwell, cornerback Ruhann Peele, safety Delon Stephenson and fullback Razohnn Gross were charged with aggravated assault. All six players who were charged have been dismissed from the team.
"I think it's sad to see all this money being poured into the football program, and we have members of the football team robbing and beating up other students," said Rutgers senior Tyler Williams on Thursday, speaking on campus a few blocks from one of the houses on Prosper Street that was burglarized. "I think it's disgraceful. It's a mess. That money could've been used to lower our tuition or to hire more campus buses."
Former New York Giants center Shaun O'Hara is a devout Rutgers alum who has set up an endowed scholarship at the school to reward a walk-on player who makes the team. He still stands by his school, but he understands why fellow supporters are upset.
"I do wish my former university would stop stepping in you-know-what," O'Hara said. "I get tons of messages and emails from people saying, 'I've had it. ... I can't take it anymore.' And I've tried to talk them off the ledge."
As if the burglary and assault arrests weren't bad enough, Rutgers indefinitely suspended All-Big Ten wide receiver Leonte Carroo earlier this week after he was charged with simple assault in a domestic violence incident that took place outside High Points Solution Stadium following last Saturday's loss to Washington State. The alleged victim, who told the Bergen Record she had dated Carroo in the past, said the 6-foot-1, 215-pound player threw her to the concrete, injuring her hip, palms and the left side of her head, according to the court complaint.
O'Hara says he was disturbed by the charges against players who were allegedly involved in the robberies, because of the use of force. And he was particularly upset by the charge against Carroo, saying, "As a football player and a man, you have no excuse for not knowing by now, because of the notoriety given to domestic abuse, that violence against a woman at any level is completely unacceptable."
Carroo's arrest came a week after he had served a half-game suspension for being among five players who violated curfew before the Scarlet Knights' opener against Norfolk State. He had vowed he wouldn't make any missteps again.
That would have been enough to throw any program into turmoil. But there was more to come. On Wednesday, the university finally concluded its four-week investigation into Flood and issued a 21-page report detailing why he has been suspended three weeks for repeatedly and "improperly" contacting a faculty member between May 6 and late August on behalf of Barnwell.
"I think it's sad to see all this money being poured into the football program, and we have members of the football team robbing and beating up other students." Tyler Williams, Rutgers student
(As in the Carroo case, Flood's judgment about giving second chances looked worse when Barnwell -- who had an assault charge dismissed last year -- was among the players arrested.)
Flood's behavior wasn't discovered until late August, after a whistle-blowing academic adviser alerted upper management of the head coach's determined effort to help Barnwell, who would have been academically ineligible if the failing grade stood. The report found Flood ignored an academic advisor's warning that he shouldn't meet with the professor, and that he consciously tried to hide his actions by telling the professor he was writing to her on his private email to avoid an open records act request. He also told her he was intentionally wearing clothing without any Rutgers insignias on it when she agreed to meet with him about Barnwell.
The get-together lasted about 50 minutes, the report says, and resulted in the part-time prof agreeing to assign Barnwell extra work that could improve his grade because she felt "implicitly intimidated" and "uncomfortable," given Flood's status.
Still, even Flood's suspension seemed to send a mixed message to some critics: Flood is still allowed to conduct weekday practices, though he can't accompany the team for Saturday's game at Penn State, Rutgers' chief rival. He will also miss Rutgers' next two games, against Kansas and fourth-ranked Michigan State.
"We're just trying to stick together as a team," defensive lineman Julian Pinnix-Odrick said. "These are times where we need to be strongest as a team. All this family thing that we preach constantly is coming out now. It's not just a gimmick. It's not just something to get recruits. We're really a tight team. You're going to defend your brothers. I'm going to do anything for those guys I'm out there playing with."
There have been calls for Flood's dismissal (something Barchi, the school president, admitted has been considered) and some nostalgia for the return of Greg Schiano, Flood's no-nonsense predecessor whose leap to the NFL ended with his firing by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2013 season.
"There are people calling for his firing," Hughes, the faculty union president, said of Flood, "and they just might succeed."
O'Hara, the former football player, rightly points out that student-athletes misbehave at many programs. He says he believes Flood, whom he knows, is an upstanding man who exercised bad judgment in Barnwell's case.
Hughes believes Flood's decision to lean on a part-time professor who earns around $4,800 per class and enjoys little job protection wasn't an accident. "A tenured professor like me would have told him go to hell," Hughes said.
Many of the students interviewed on campus Thursday were critical of the team but regard Flood's bad judgment more caustically, since he is the supposed authority figure and adult in the team room.
Eric Vinciquarra, a junior in Rutgers' mechanical engineering program, said, "I read about the coach, and it feels like he's just losing control of the program. Or the players are out of control. To me, if you want to play football, just follow the rules and don't do anything stupid that would make you not able to play football, you know?"
Jocelyn Rock, a senior English major, said students received emails from school leadership that informed about the players' arrests in early September and again Wednesday when Flood was suspended. She said the controversies made her think about the football program as a whole.
"When it rains, it pours. And right now, it's a flood. If you want to go on a macro level, there have been quite a few blows. To have these three incidents back-to-back-to-back now, it's a challenge for all the Rutgers faithful to believe." Shaun O'Hara, Former Rutgers and NFL player
"The players and the coach -- I just thought maybe it needs more structure, because obviously the kids, they're acting like they can do what they want, and then you have the coach, and he's meeting with an instructor and acting like he can do what he wants," Rock said.
"This thing with the coach really made me wonder what is really going on. How long has this been going on? I mean, talking to professors? I guess this time he just got caught doing it and I was like, 'Is this just how it is?' I think about it."
O'Hara said one of the things he emphasizes to those folks who call him to lament Rutgers' troubles is the actions of a few shouldn't tar the teammates who have done nothing wrong. Mentioning now how he had been on teams in which players got DUIs, players were caught using drugs, players were arrested for having firearms or weapons, O'Hara insisted: "It's never been a true indicator of the character of the entire team."
And that's demonstrably true.
But Rutgers does have to answer for why these things keep happening. And Flood does, too.
Exacerbating everything is the fact that the avalanche of current problems with Flood's program has -- fairly or not -- revived memories of other embarrassments for Rutgers athletics. And they now seemed linked together again like boxcars, in one long train of disappointment.
There was the lax vetting when Rutgers hired Eddie Jordan as basketball coach in 2013 before discovering he'd never completed his degree from the school. That came on the heels of the firing of abusive men's basketball coach Mike Rice and Tim Pernetti, the athletic director who initially gave Rice only a three-game suspension until video later surfaced of just how badly Rice hectored his players. There was the subsequent decision to replace Pernetti with Hermann, a woman who had been accused of being verbally abusive toward athletes during a previous stop at Louisville and was at the center of a lawsuit over the alleged wrongful termination of a female employee who complained about sexist treatment.
Hermann often remains unavailable for comment and issues statements primarily via email now, as if -- what? -- she can't be trusted to speak extemporaneously? Among her past public missteps was telling a Rutgers journalism class that it would be "great" if the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper, which had just laid off 167 employees, would go out of business.
"If they're not writing headlines that are getting our attention, they're not selling ads -- and they die ... I'm going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive," Hermann told the media ethics and law class.
You can't make some of this stuff up.
"When it rains, it pours," O'Hara said. "And right now, it's a flood. If you want to go on a macro level, there have been quite a few blows. To have these three incidents back-to-back-to-back now, it's a challenge for all the Rutgers faithful to believe."
Matt Chen, a sophomore who attends every Rutgers football game, said Thursday his hopes of the Scarlet Knights returning to a bowl game have turned from optimistic to doubtful.
"The kids that did all this -- I just think to myself, 'They have it pretty good here, with their scholarships and all that.' I don't see why they had to do the things they decided to do," Chen said.