Back in the day when a Jersey Guy was in Texas covering the old Southwest Conference for the Dallas Morning News, the clearest path to success often seemed to be for each school to break the rules.
Led by the infamous SMU program, the schools in the SWC–SMU, Texas, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor, Rice and Houston all found ways to break or bend the NCAA rules. Most of them were caught and punished, led by SMU which had its football program shut down by the NCAA for two years.
One school that seemed to avoid the NCAA net was Rice, a strong academic school in Houston, which was perennially one of the SWC’s bottom feeders.
A Jersey Guy remembers going to an SWC coaches meeting one spring and asking then Rice coach Ray Alborn a simple question: In a conference like the SWC, why doesn’t Rice cheat?”
Alborn, who always had a sense of humor when talking about his alma mater, smiled and said, “”We do. But like everything else we do in football at Rice, we’re no good at it.”
Which brings us to this week’s semi-headline news: the NCAA was again dealing with A Jersey Guy’s home university, Rutgers, leveling seven potential violations against the Scarlet Knights in an investigation which took 18 months to complete.
The report used the dreaded term of “failing to provide an atmosphere of compliance for the rules”. It included issues ranging from academic fraud to drug issues.
Rutgers, which has co-operated with the NCAA, responded by stating that the problem had been identified and the people responsible, ranging from coaches to administrators no longer worked for the school.
But here is where Rutgers outdistanced many of of its rule-breaking predecessors.
In other places where rules violations were committed–at places like USC, SMU and Auburn–those schools WON as a result of the rules they broke. USC and Auburn won national championships.
Not at Rutgers, which can only not win championships, but has had trouble even winning games.
This is a school which in the last 10 seasons has had 8 offensive coordinators in football (8 in the last eight years), 5 basketball coaches, 4 athletic directors, 3 FB coaches, 2 major scandals in football and men’s basketball (where one former coach Mike Rice was fired for physically and verbally abusing his players). But not 1 winning season in basketball.
Consider some other numbers in men’s basketball and football, the two primary revenue producing sports in college athletics.
The Scarlet Knights men’s basketball team has not made an NCAA tournament appearance since 1991. Their last appearance in the NIT was in 2006, which was also their last winning season.
During the past 10 seasons, RU has changed coaches on an average of every two years, including the latest, Steve Pikiell, who was hired this season and has guided the Scarlet Knights to an impressive 11-1 start (more about that later).
Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, the Scarlet Knights have won a total of 5 of the 54 Big Ten games they have played.
In football, Rutgers has gone 4-21 in three Big Ten seasons. First year coach Chris Ash was hired to reply Kyle Flood, who was responsible for most of the football violations in the NCAA’s case.
Rutgers went 0-9 in the Big Ten this season, including a staggering two week stretch when Michigan and Ohio State beat the Scarlet Knights by a combined score of 136-0.
The bottom line seems clear: Rutgers isn’t even good at breaking the rules, because not only did it get caught, it didn’t even win because of it.
The Big Ten will tolerate Rutgers because it expanded the footprint of the lucrative Big Ten television network to millions of more households, it opened another recruiting window in the Northeast, all of which is part of the reason why the Big Ten is projecting payouts of more than $40 million each year to its member schools.
Whether Rutgers wins or loses really has very little affect on what Rutgers and Maryland, the two newest Big Ten members who are struggling in football, do on the field.
Rutgers boosters argue that the fast start for the basketball team is a sign that Pikiell is part of a new era in Rutgers basketball.
Let’s wait and see.
The latest computer rankings have RU’s strength of schedule listed at 294 (out of 351 schools). Talk to us in March to see how much improvement Rutgers basketball has made.
In football, Ash and his staff are beginning their second recruiting season in a state that is filled with enough talent to draw other Big Ten powers such as Michigan and Ohio State to New Jersey offering chances to play in the Big Ten.
One of Rutgers’ primary problems over the years has been the inability to keep home grown talent in the state.
Why go to Rutgers has always been a rhetorical question. Why would anyone go to Rutgers remains a more relevant question, especially with the strong possibility of NCAA sanctions.
Rutgers, of course, could self impose some sanctions such as announcing a two-year ban on bowl games or forfeiting past victories. Even a reduction in scholarships could be offered as a public service to in-state blue chip athletes.
When asked to describe the situation, the best answer is simple and understandable to many: It’s Rutgers.