By David Cruz
They pumped crowd noise onto the practice field this morning as a way to help players focus for game distractions they’ll face as they prepare for the season, and there will be some, as there always seem to be with this program. The latest? Confirmation this week that the university’s Office of Ethics and Compliance “initiated an investigation with the assistance of outside counsel when this matter was first brought to our attention a little more than one week ago,” according to a statement from Rutgers University.
The “matter” is an e-mail reportedly sent by head coach Kyle Flood to a professor, reportedly inquiring about the academic performance of one of his players. Pretty benign and not uncommon says Flood — and not, from what we can tell, a violation of any formal Rutgers policy.
But the NCAA? That may be a different story. Article 16 of the Division I manual says “The student-athlete shall not receive … any special arrangement by an institutional employee or representative of the institution’s athletics interests to provide the student-athlete … with a benefit not expressly authorized by NCAA legislation.”
Rutgers is said to have a similar, albeit unofficial, policy, preferring coaches go through the department of Academic Support. Today, the coach would only confirm that he was contacted by the university about the investigation.
“I’m confident that this will be resolved shortly but above and beyond that I just need to be respectful to the university’s process,” he said.
Players here are taught to concentrate on football, but this is a Division I athletic program and avoiding external distractionscan can often be easier said than done. Coach Flood says, though, that he’s got players on this team who know how to keep their teammates focused.
“The players in their fourth and fifth year — not just the seniors but the red shirt juniors — regardless of the situation, those are the players that you rely on to lead the football team, to put their arm around a younger guy and say “hey this is where this football team is going,” he said. “Remain focused, go out to practice today and be 1 and 0 in practice today. That’s the goal today, be 1 and 0 today.”
Although this situation has not risen to the level of the firestorm that surrounded the 2013 video of coach Mike Rice berating his players, controversy has followed Rutgers athletics in recent years, including charges that athletic director Julie Hermann abused her players while she was head coach of Louisville volleyball, and, of course, the viral video of alumnus Ray Rice striking his then-fiance in a hotel elevator. Over this period, New Jersey lawmakers have called for reforms at the university, and the athletic program. This latest incident has, so far, not risen to that level, says Senator Ray Lesniak, a frequent critic of the university’s handling of some of its past issues.
“It seems like the coach didn’t go through the academic advisor, which he should have. It seems like it’s a ministerial mistake that will be corrected, I’m certain, going forward,” he said. “He’s a good man.”
Depending on the outcome of the probe, Flood could face a reprimand or dismissal. The university didn’t say how long the investigation is likely to take. Rutgers opens the season at home , Sept. 5 against Norfolk State.