Big Ten, big stage and big problems for Rutgers
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) There was hardly anyone left in the stands as the Rutgers band played the alma mater and the football players gathered in the end zone to celebrate a victory against Kansas on Saturday.
It was a ho-hum game against one of the worst teams in FBS, so it was hard to blame Scarlet Knights fans for being less than fired up about a 27-14 win.
But after all that has gone on with Rutgers football over the last month - the suspended coach, the suspended best offensive player, the six players dismissed after being arrested - anything to lighten the mood around the program was welcome.
''Coming out with a win, it's a positive for this university,'' running back Paul James said.
The game was the first for Rutgers at home since coach Kyle Flood was suspended three games for having impermissible communication with a faculty member about a player's academic status. Flood has one more game to miss when Rutgers faces No. 2 Michigan State at home in two weeks.
On top of the scandal involving Flood, six players were dismissed from the program after four were arrested for an assault and two for a home invasion. One of the players let go, cornerback Nadir Barnwell, was the one Flood tried to help get eligible to play. Then to make matters worse, star receiver Leontee Carroo was suspended indefinitely and arrested after he was involved in an altercation with a female student after the last home game earlier this month.
''It's hard, but we're used to this,'' Pat Morris, a longtime supporter of the program from Somerset, New Jersey, said before the game.
It has been a rough few years for Rutgers, and ironically it has come after the outlook for Scarlet Knight athletics never seemed brighter.
It was the fall of 2012 when the Big Ten invited Rutgers and Maryland to join.
For Rutgers, it was a huge promotion when many of its fellow former Big East members were being relegated to second division of FBS. Aside from the prestige of competing against the likes of Ohio State and Michigan, the revenue that would start flowing to Rutgers from the Big Ten would eventually make the athletic department self-sufficient after years of getting tens of millions of dollars of yearly subsidies from the university.
''Gift from God,'' the 56-year-old Morris called it.
The party in Piscataway did not last long.
Early in 2013 basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for being abusive to players and athletic director Tim Pernetti, who was pivotal in getting Rutgers into the Big Ten, was fired for not firing Rice soon enough.
Julie Hermann was hired to replace Pernetti, but came with baggage. As a volleyball coach, some of her players had accused her of being abusive.
Things seemed to stabilize last year, when Flood and the Scarlet Knights went 8-5 in their first Big Ten season. In late August it all started unraveling again.
''It's a shame because Kyle's been here 3 1-2 years and if you divided it up by 3 1-2 years, it would probably be, `Ah, things happen,''' said Morris, who supports Flood and is involved in some of the coach's charity events.
Hermann has been mostly silent during the tumultuous month. University president Robert Barchi made the decision on Flood's discipline and has been the main voice about the controversy. Flood, for his part, has been quiet. The lack of response has given some the impression of a lack of leadership in the athletic department.
''I think the athletic department can be a little more vociferous,'' said Chuck Anastasiou, a 1981 graduate of Rutgers College who lives in Scotch Plains.
Morris and Anastasiou fly the Rutgers flag and the Big Ten flag over their tailgates. They have been coming to Rutgers games for decades, seen some good and lots of bad. Big Ten membership was supposed to change everything, but the news that's made the biggest headlines since have been negative.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany told The Chicago Tribune this week he has no regrets about bringing in Rutgers, but the question even being asked is a point of contention for fans.
''No doubt it's frustrating,'' Anastasiou said. ''We have a lot of pride in our school. Continue to have a lot of pride in our school. I have a lot of confidence that in the big picture, we'll be fine.''
Anastasiou's sister, Elena Anastasiou Rossi, gets fired up when talking about all the attention being given to the troubles with Rutgers football team.
''It's overshadowing all the good things and people are going to get discouraged,'' she said. ''The women's soccer team is No. 2 in the country. Yet all we hear about is what goes on with the football team. You can't convince me that all the stuff that's new to us hasn't been going on (at other schools).''
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP