First Impressions Mean Everything

By Johnny Ginter on April 8, 2013 at 5:00 pm
The NCAA equivalent of Grumpycat
"Oh. Great. Just... great."

If your mom was anything like my mom, you were probably drilled at length about the necessity of making a good first impression. Eye contact, hands out of pockets, fingers out of noses, make sure your fly is up — pretty generic and simple stuff, but on the other hand if you're a nine-year-old, making a fart sound with your armpit is just about as good as a handshake, so why stand on formalities?

In other words, there are things that need to be taught, because undoing a first impression, good or bad, takes a lot of time and effort.

So let's say that you're Jim Delany. You aren't super well-acquainted with the Rutgers basketball program because there is basically no reason for you to be. It's a mediocre program at a school known for a slightly better than mediocre football team, and they haven't made the NCAA tourney since 1991. About as under-your-radar as it could possibly get.

But then one day in the (relative) offseason you awaken yourself in your Tibetan bungalow, shaking off your opium-induced stupor as you deeply kiss one of your many comely tea maidens. Flustered at your uninhibited nudity, your manservant enters your bedroom and bows nervously as he hands you a copy of the Columbus Dispatch. "Cables from the most recent happenings around the world, my lord," the young man squeaks.

And that's when you see it: "Rutgers Scarlet Knights fire coach Mike Rice in wake of video scandal."

Furious, you crush your porcelain tea cup and hurl the remnants at the wall. "What now, your high sexiness? What shall be thine power move?"

You look the tea maiden dead in the eye. "My sweet, this is exactly what I'm going to do."

Delany also said in a statement that league officials “will continue to monitor the situation as appropriate, (but) it will have no impact on Rutgers' transition to, or membership in, the Big Ten Conference.”

Very predictable, Delany!

Of course, this is what anyone in his position could reasonably be expected to say. After all, the deal that brings Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten could potentially mean tens of millions of dollars to the conference that Delany is in charge of, and damage control in this situation is pretty important.

Still, this is a pretty inauspicious start for a deal that didn't seem all that great to begin with. Most people haven't exactly been singing the praises of this arrangement in the first place, and when compared to the generally assumed no-brainer that was bringing Nebraska into the Big Ten, Rutgers and Maryland are looking more like the soggy leftovers that they kind of are.

The larger issue is that this is the type of problem that has yet to play itself out.


The initial reaction to the video of Mike Rice abusing his players both physically and verbally was pretty terrible to begin with. Any representative of any university that's trying to make a good impression after moving to new digs can probably do a lot better than a basketball coach acting like a petulant child, and it doesn't help when there's a handy video that seems readymade for eternal dissection on sports talk shows looking for content before the NFL Draft (what, you think Mike & Mike are gonna talk about baseball or hockey? Ahahahah!).

What's worse for Rutgers and the Big Ten is that the rabbit hole keeps getting deeper. For instance, Rutgers is now the target of gay rights activists, who feel that the university's response wasn't adequate in light of the slurs that Rice said on the tape. The FBI is now considering an extortion angle on the entire incident, and has begun investigating. Saturday Night Live did a parody of the situation, meaning that insomniacs and the tragically bored are now aware of what happened.

That's all pretty bad. The stuff with the Feds most of all, if TV, movies, and my brief appearance on America's Most Wanted have taught me anything. What might actually be worse for Rutgers and the Big Ten's newly minted relationship is that now that Tim Pernetti, the Rutgers athletic director who is now the former Rutgers athletic director, is no longer in the picture, all of a sudden the link between Rutgers administration and Big Ten brass becomes just that more tenuous.

So the problem becomes legitimacy. Rutgers now needs to prove to the Big Ten at large that they're a stable and probably more importantly, profitable member that won't put a bad face on the conference as a whole. And Jim Delany needs to scramble to prove to skeptics that he didn't just bring in a corrupt Jersey stereotype to the pristine Big Ten (except for that thing with the coach. No, the other thing. No, the other other thing. And all that booster stuff).

To be fair, college athletic departments are no strangers to controversy, and I'm not naive enough to pine for those innocent bygone days when coaches wore suits, fans wore fedoras, everybody was a lot more racist, and nothing bad happened in college sports ever. But the problems seem to be accelerating, and I think that inertia is being driven by a combination of better, more objective reporting (I like to play this mental game where I try and figure out how many drifters Bear Bryant could've killed before someone said something) and the gigantic sums of cash that are now being thrown around in college sports.

Mike Rice's firing was a result of the former, but part of the reason he was able to stay as head coach long after he should've been allowed to was because of the latter. If he hasn't already, at some point Jim Delany is going to have to realize that when you dangle that Big Ten carrot in front of a desperate school — especially schools that require a large subsidy to keep their athletic departments afloat like Rutgers and Maryland — those schools are going to do what they can not to screw the deal.

So what now? Rutgers is still in flux, the FBI is currently investigating, and that lady from Mike and Molly decimated Rice with her devastating wit. Jim Delany just shook the hand of the new B1G recruits and found their grip to be wet and clammy. If America's most Midwest American conference outside of the Mid-American Conference can't find a way to keep up appearances, their reputation might take even longer to recover.

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