Flipping the channels the other morning, I came across the last few seconds of a sports-channel report on the football news out of Rutgers. You know it all by now. Players arrested for shaking down drug dealers with baseball bats and knives. Coach suspended for not-quite shaking down an instructor. Player charged with physical violence against a woman, who was an athletic department "hostess."
Downstream, downstream, Rutgers BLAH!
The morning guy's segue to the upcoming segment went like this: "Now, going from one extreme to another, we'll interview a quarterback who is a Harvard graduate, Ryan Fitzpatrick, of the New York Jets."
And there you have it. In the perception of the national news media which, like it or not, impacts the perception of millions, Rutgers is now seen as the kind of football factory that sells its soul.
Like it or not, the bad overshadows the good. Want an example? Is "The U" (Miami) known for its excellent architecture program or for its football team inciting brawls?
We're all fortunate to be here, so I think we should be giving back to community." -- Ryan Morris, Rutgers crew
Everything many people feared – and many predicted – about Rutgers going "big time" seems to be coming true.
Academic rule-bending. Players with mug shots.Young women paid by the athletic department to be hostesses.
This last item seems to have escaped scrutiny, but if there is ever a reason to lump Rutgers in with the bums of college sports, this is it.
No university, especially one that regards itself as prestigious, should hold young women up to high school recruits, offering the illusion or veiled promise of what awaits them if they sign. Girls. Pretty girls. Lotsa pretty girls.
The fact that this is going on at Rutgers -- where the head of the athletic department is a woman, as is one of her top assistants -- should be pretty good evidence that not only is the program broken, but the university's priorities are way skewed.This hostess program should be ended, now, no questions asked.
Hostess scandals became so bad in the mid-2000s that the NCAA huffed-and-puffed about banning such programs. They happened at Arizona State, the University of Oregon, the University of Tennessee and, just last year, at Vanderbilt — another great academic institution that is going "big time." At Vandy, defense attorneys for the football players accused of raping and unconscious woman and urinating on her, partly blamed the campus culture of promiscuity. They used the hostess program as Exhibit A.
So now, in the world of sports media, Rutgers is one of "those" universities. The kind that imports thugs to win. The kind that has players take courses like Dance Appreciation (which now, thanks to Rutgers, may replace Basket Weaving as the accepted vernacular as courses for athletes in search of a passing GPA). The kind that offers ... ambassador-ettes.
The kind that has a good-ol'-boy governor to say it's all no big deal, as Gov. Chris Christie did just a week after he made a law-and-order campaign speech. The only thing missing was the Southern drawl saying, "Buddy, that ain't crime, it's football."
The kind where a football player in handcuffs and an orange county jumpsuit puts on a Charles Manson face in court for the cameras for millions to see and think, "That's the face of the Rutgers football program."
The kind of program where some Rutgers fans defend it all, using this kind of logic: At least it's not pedophilia. This is a common spew on some fanboy boards -- including nj.com -- where the media, Penn State fans and concerned Rutgers fans are attacked for "blowing it out of proportion."
"At least we didn't have Sandusky."
If that's Jersey logic, Pennsylvania looks better every day.
Missing from all of this coverage and controversy is this obvious perspective: the truth is that most athletes are good kids and good students, and they put their status to work to do good things for people.
Members of the football team, including quarterback Hayden Rettig, splashed around in the Somerset Y pool every Saturday with children with autism and developmental disabilities last spring.
The baseball team raised $13,500 for the Vs. Cancer Foundation last season, in a campaign organized by junior Mike Zavala. The volleyball team volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House in New Brunswick.
The women's lacrosse team embraced and raised funds for Genna Camiolo, a girl with a pediatric brain tumor, in 2008. She is still alive and the team continues to support her medical needs.
The wrestling team played in a wheelchair basketball tournament in South Plainfield in June to help a 6-year-old girl named Brianna Feeney, who suffers from an extremely rare genetic disorder.
These are just a few examples, tailored for space.
This week, Ryan Morris, 21, a senior business major and member of the Rutgers crew will launch a fundraiser called "Eat to Beat Drug Addiction," which takes place Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Four off-campus restaurants – Brother Jimmy's Barbeque, the Sushi Room, Papa Grande Grill and Thomas Sweets are donating proceeds. Track team member Kyle Holder has helped organize, which will feature some Jersey-centric guest eaters like Gerry Cooney and "Real Housewives" stars.
Morris has addiction in his family and had a drug death in his circle of friends. While studying last year in Rome, he picked up the book "Start Something that Matters," by Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes.
"That had a big influence on me," he said.
He knew he would have support -- and a platform -- at his school to do something good.
"We're all fortunate to be here (Rutgers)," Morris said, "so I think we should be giving back to community."
And that is the truer face of Rutgers athletics.