How much easier would life had been for you as a kid if you had a convenient scapegoat to make your dumb foibles look about a thousand times better? How many time outs, groundings, and banishments from various rinks (both roller and ice) could've been avoided if only there was someone else to take the fall when you both get caught stealing tomatoes out of Old Man Jenkins' tomater patch? My guess is... probably a lot!
As a kid, I never got the sweet, sweet taste of watching a patsy take the fall for something even dumber than what I normally pulled; being the older brother tends to limit the opportunities for that kind of thing.
So that's why I'm so excited about Rutgers joining the Big Ten. For far too long, Ohio State has been the bad kid of the B1G, always ready and available for whatever slings and arrows people can throw at us for various minor/boring violations of NCAA law. NCAA law, mind, is not actual LAW law, but people feel entitled to get really angry about these pedantic guidelines being broken regardless. But now, we have Rutgers.
Boy howdy, do we have Rutgers.
The sheer amount of bad press coming out of Rutgers in the past few years is honestly more than a little impressive. They have made almost every possible misstep that they could make since Jim Delany let them in the He-Man Woman Hater's Club, and in doing so have established themselves as the lovable Dennis the Menace of America's most boring conference. At least, if Dennis the Menace was party to alleged assaults, verbal abuse, really stupid/harmful jokes, and dumb hiring decisions.
But let's start with the most recent. Recent Rutgers transfer quarterback Philip Nelson was charged yesterday with assault. Nelson is alleged to have stomped on a dude's head for looking at his girlfriend a little too hard, almost killing the guy. It's an injury similar to the one that Tyler Moeller sustained a few years back while in a Florida bar, except this time instead of a drunk redneck acting a fool, it was a former Golden Gopher Philip Nelson apparently acting a fool. Yep, Nelson was a Minnesota transfer, hadn't yet played one game for the Scarlet Knights, and yet is already doing his part to burnish the reputation of that fine university.
Of course, the administration of the school has done a pretty decent job themselves, and it wouldn't be fair to leave their contributions out. Rutgers AD Julie Hermann has been the gift that keeps on giving, having been accused of wrongdoing at previous stops in Tennessee and Louisville before moving on to make a series of dumb comments at Rutgers like this one:
"If they're not writing headlines that are getting our attention, they're not selling ads -- and they die," Hermann told the Media Ethics and Law class. "And the Ledger almost died in June, right?"
"They might die again next month," a student said.
"That would be great," she replied. "I'm going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive."
Hermann was going for a HAHAH YEAH STICK IT TO 'EM kind of joke, because the Star-Ledger had done a number of investigations in to both her actions and those of the university as a whole. Instead, it plays more as a mustache twirling veiled threat because Hermann's job teeters on the edge of public opinion pretty much weekly. The funniest part of this whole thing is what Adam Rittenberg wrote about it for ESPN in response, and this is where my point about this whole thing starts to emerge:
Take Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, for example. During the Tat-5/Jim Tressel/Bobby DiGeronimo scandal fallout, I repeatedly criticized Smith for his refusal to acknowledge a systematic failure at Ohio State. Our dealings since then have been cordial and professional. Smith is a veteran AD at a big-time school. He understands the scrutiny. I'd be stunned if he ever made a comment like Hermann's in a public setting.
Do you see what happened here? Julie Hermann said something so monumentally stupid that it made Gene Smith look awesome in comparison and national media used him as a positive example.
That's incredible. Gene Smith the person seems like a good dude, but Gene Smith the Athletic Director for the Ohio State University has made a number of highly public and embarrassing mistakes that we've bemoaned over and over on this website, and according to Adam Rittenberg even Mean Gene wouldn't think of saying something as dumb as what Julie Hermann said to a room full of freaking journalism students.
That's just the tip of the iceberg, though. In the past few years, Rutgers has dealt with high profile stories about its 11.5 million dollar ransom to the ACC, basketball coach Mike Rice being an incredible turd, the previous athletic director resigning because of his unwillingness to fire Mike Rice for being an incredible turd, and abuse allegations on the football team.
Then there's the Eric LeGrand thing, which is so cartoonishly evil that I'm not even really sure how to process it. I'm sure that Rutgers didn't intentionally decide to humiliate a quadriplegic dude, but that they railroaded possibly the ONE person affiliated with Rutgers University that is actually doing something positive for the image of the Scarlet Knights says volumes about how things are going over there.
Anyway, I'm completely in favor of all of this. I mean, not the actual actions (taking a dump over Eric LeGrand and then offering him a wet-nap later is pretty inexcusable), but more the idea of Rutgers being the Ferguson of the Big Ten. Ohio State has been the school with the target on its back for the past several years, and while not all of the vitriol directed at OSU has been unwarranted, it has been increasingly annoying. Gene Smith and E. Gordon Gee and Tressel aren't saints, but they also aren't quite the epic screwups that people like Julie Hermann, Tim Pernetti, and Mike Rice seem to be.
And really, "seem to be" is about the only thing that matters. Public perception is king; Gene Smith could have 600 child sweatshop laborers, slaving in his basement making knockoff Coach purses and if nobody knows about it, then who cares? It's about what makes it in the press, either local or on ESPN/Yahoo!/SI.com, that actually matters. As long as Rutgers keeps racking up the negative press for a series of errors that they seem to be unable to stop, the heat will be lessened on Ohio State and will make us look better by proxy. Which, after the last four years or so is almost literal manna from heaven.
So thank you, Rutgers! Your transition into the Big Ten has been nothing short of a complete fiasco, and frankly I couldn't be happier. We now have a hilariously corrupt New Jersey stereotype to make fun of and exaggerate while simultaneously ignoring our own flaws. Now, you Scarlet Knight fans might complain that that's not fair, and that doing so shortchanges the university, ignores the positive things that it does for the community, blah blah blah. You're probably right about that, but after years of being the target, we finally get to be Snoopy and someone else has to be Pigpen.
At least, until Maryland screws up.