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Harris: Priorities out of whack at Rutgers

| Wednesday, June 5, 2013, 12:04 a.m.
Julie Hermann listens as Rutgers president Robert Barchi announces Hermann as athletic director May 15, 2013, in Piscataway, N.J.

Mike Rice.

Tim Pernetti.

Eddie Jordan.

Now Julie Hermann.

Hermann's recent hiring is the fourth avoidable scandal occurring in Rutgers' athletic department within the past two months. This is beginning to look more like an epidemic than a string of unfortunate personnel moves.

University president Robert Barchi had the final say each time.

“It's coming straight from the top. The head of the university is making this call,” Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, told me Monday. “It speaks to a culture where presidents and athletic directors are not used to having accountability to anybody.”

It was Barchi who didn't fire Rice until video of the men's basketball coach's physical and verbal abuse of his basketball players went viral. It was Barchi who waited to fire Pernetti — the athletic director who hired Rice — until doing anything else would have placed his own career in peril.

It was Barchi who also hired Jordan, a former basketball star at Rutgers and longtime NBA coach, to replace Rice — only to have it revealed that Jordan never graduated from Rutgers, contrary to Jordan's biography on the athletic department's website.

And, finally, it was Barchi who signed off on hiring Hermann to replace Pernetti and, boy, does Barchi wish he could take that one back.

It isn't as if Rutgers is just any old athletic program hiring any old athletic director. No, Rutgers is a school in the crosshairs after the Rice debacle and the Pernetti mess of its own doing. A school that when you say, “Rutgers,” people who don't know the first thing about Rutgers, are likely to respond, “That's the school with the crazy basketball coach.”

Barchi knew he needed to make a good AD hire and stay out of the news, but even that was asking too much.

A former UCLA football player, Huma founded the NCPA to look after the rights of student-athletes. He's also a board member in the Former College Athletes Association, which would likely have the authority to disperse settlement money in the “O'Bannon v. NCAA” antitrust lawsuit. On June 20, a federal judge will determine if the case can proceed as a class-action lawsuit.

Huma said the NCPA is closely monitoring the Rutgers situation, which he believes is symptomatic of big-time college athletics and ignores the rights of student-athletes.

“This is the second time Barchi has shown his incompetence,” Huma said. “We called for his firing the first time when he didn't bother to look at the video when student-athletes were abused. It's hard to believe he wouldn't take the time to watch the video of a history professor accused of abusing a student.”

With all of the available candidates for a prestigious position such as the athletic director at Rutgers, Barchi whiffed yet again.

Not only did he overlook the potential public relations disaster that is the byproduct of hiring Hermann, he compounded his mistake when he stubbornly defended the hire.

Think about the message Barchi is sending his student-athletes — the ones who generate millions of dollars playing football and basketball for the university — so he can continue to take them for granted.

So what that Hermann, hired to replace Pernetti, resigned after all 15 players on her volleyball team at Tennessee wrote a letter accusing her of abusive behavior, or that there were two lawsuits during her tenure at Tennessee and Louisville?

What's worse than Barchi not knowing about Hermann's unsavory past and hiring her? Knowing her past, and still making the controversial hire.

Wait, it gets worse.

Last week, Tara Sullivan, a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.), quoting a source with direct knowledge of the hiring process, reported of a “sometimes secret” and “often rushed” selection process involving the 26-member advisory committee charged with hiring Hermann. In a statement in support of Hermann, Barchi said, “Rutgers was deliberate at every stage of this process.”

It all goes back to what Huma said about Barchi feeling like he's untouchable and can do no wrong.

Barchi just fired his men's basketball coach who verbally and physically abused his players. Why would he hire a new athletic director a couple of months later with a similar track record?

Did Barchi not learn from his first mistake, or does he simply not care how it looks?

“The environment in which this hire was made is not grounded in common sense,” Huma said. “You've got a school that is trying to recover from an embarrassing scandal. For the president to turn around and hire an athletic director who was accused of the same thing at another school just makes no sense.”

Unfortunately, in the world of big-time college athletics, where college presidents hire and fire coaches and athletic directors instead of running the university, it makes perfect sense.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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