Former men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was caught on video abusing players and uttering slurs in practice, but the school didn’t dismiss him until after ESPN aired the video. Rutgers then fired popular athletics director Tim Pernetti, who had helped negotiate entry into the Big Ten. To replace Pernetti, it hired Julie Hermann, who had been described as an abusive coach herself by her former volleyball players at Tennessee. To replace Rice, the school hired Eddie Jordan, only later realizing he hadn’t earned his college degree.
The public relations disasters didn’t stop there. Rutgers thought it was getting its quarterback of the future when former Gopher Philip Nelson transferred there in January. But Nelson was charged with first- and third-degree assault of former Minnesota State Mankato football player Isaac Kolstad. Rutgers promptly dismissed Nelson, who faces up to 20 years in prison.
Hoping for a boost
The hope in New Jersey is that a new chapter begins now. Rutgers joined the Big East in 1991 and migrated with other former Big East teams into the American Athletic Conference (AAC) last year, awaiting this next move. Officials estimate that the Big Ten will provide Rutgers an additional $200 million over the next 12 years.
“We’re seeing a boost in donations and giving because of our Big Ten membership,” Hermann wrote in an e-mail. “Football season ticket sales are up significantly. We’ve already seen tremendous benefits from the move because of the response from our fanbase.”
But some are still surprised the Big Ten came calling.
“I was amazed by that offer,” said Bob Stanicki, a former Rutgers tennis captain who served as an assistant coach before the team was cut. “I can just assume they were looking to get into the New York market, and Rutgers was one of their only options. But it’s on the fringe. I think maybe the Big Ten is overvaluing Rutgers’ dynamic within that market.”
“You have the Giants and Jets and a bunch of professional sports teams that you’re competing against.”
In a New York Times blog, statistician Nate Silver posted research showing that of the 20 million residents in the New York market, only about 3 percent are Rutgers football fans. However, that’s still about 600,000 potential TV viewers.
The Big Ten Network already has successfully negotiated to get its channel on the expanded basic cable packages in the New York and Baltimore/Washington markets. This increased the network’s reach to 60 million homes, up from 52 million.
Big Ten schools also hope this expansion will help recruiting. According to Sports Illustrated, the nine-state Big Ten footprint before the expansion holds just 32 of the 325 highest-rated recruits in the 2015 class. Expand the area to include New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C., and that adds another 32 elite recruits.
The Big Ten headquarters are still in Chicago, but the conference has added a New York office and plans to hold the 2017 men’s basketball tournament in Washington.
“We realize there’s a balancing act; we can’t forget our roots,” Traviolia said. “We still have the majority of our institutions in the Midwest and we don’t intend to put all our eggs in the East Coast basket.”