For Rutgers, Big-Time Scandal Will Mean Big-Time Costs in Dollars, Reputation

Tim Goral's picture
Monday, April 8, 2013

Wealthy supporters are threatening to close their checkbooks. The disgraced coach and the tarnished athletic director are walking away with university-funded golden parachutes of more than $1 million each. In less than a week, a middling basketball program has turned toxic.

For New Jersey’s flagship university, the costs of scandal — in dollars and in reputation — could have consequences for years to come, according to interviews with labor attorneys, legislators and boosters of an athletic department that has stumbled through a transition to big-time college sports.

Lawmakers are demanding reform. Rutgers President Robert Barchi, just seven months into the job, faces continued calls for his resignation.

And should former coach Mike Rice’s players choose to file suit, reasoning the kicks, shoves and slurs they endured amounted to harassment or discrimination, the university is likely be on the hook for millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements costs, lawyers say.

All this while Rutgers manages the most complicated juggling act in its history: the absorption of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and the proposed merger of its law schools in Newark and Camden.

Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D-Cumberland), chairwoman of the Assembly higher education committee, calls the disclosures of the past week “heartbreaking,” not just in terms of Rice’s abusive behavior toward his players, but in poor judgment by his superiors, the loss of jobs and the damage to Rutgers’ credibility.

“It was completely mishandled from the beginning,” Riley said. “They thought they all made good decisions, and they were not adequate decisions for the scope of the job they were entrusted to do.”

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