Rutgers continues to trip over the foot in its mouth


The low-hanging-fruit topic for a post on crisis management today would be the fire on the Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas, which thankfully did not hurt any of the 3,000 passengers and crew. The cruise ship industry is in the midst of a years-long hurt dance, and I see no teaching moments in piling on.

Let’s turn, therefore, to Rutgers University. When last we visited the school fired the basketball coach for abusing players and the athletic director followed him out the door for not firing the coach earlier. Now the new AD is under pressure to resign because of allegations she abused her volleyball players at the University of Tennessee in 1996.

When everyone involved circles the wagons and talks about how there’s no chance that someone will resign, it’s only a matter of days before it happens. But that’s not the point here.

The point is that all crises continue until all questions are answered and the full truth is out. But organizations and individuals perpetuate a crisis if they make decisions that compound the ones that led to the crisis.

This usually flares because media and other watchdogs are looking ever more closely at the organization in crisis. Think sharks with blood in the water. In this case, Rutgers AD Julie Hermann needed to be above reproach. You needed a Mother Theresa with knowledge of baseball stats, NCAA rules and an ESPN app on her phone.

Instead, Rutgers apparently went for someone who had that experience and chops who administrators hoped would make people forget about the recent mess. But the search committee apparently searched for candidates, but not so much into their backgrounds. In addition to the abuse allegations, Hermann is suing Tennessee for age and gender discrimination, which usually would be enough to warn away a committee. No one apparently looked back very far or talked to her former players either. She’d served as Louisville’s executive senior associate athletic director before Rutgers.

“Rutgers was deliberative at every stage of this process,” Rutgers President Robert Barchi said defensively. “Over the course of the search, Julie’s record established her as a proven leader in athletics administration with a strong commitment to academic success as well as athletic excellence, and a strong commitment to the well-being of student athletes.”

Other university sports programs — Penn State, Arkansas, Miami — won praise for hiring solid replacements for disgraced former coaches. Integrity and standards above reproach had to weigh as heavily as coaching ability. That helped those programs. Rutgers apparently didn’t get that memo.

Said New Jersey State Sen. Dick Codey:

“His successor is someone who is an obvious liar, a flat-out liar,” Codey said told the AP. “She shouldn’t be the AD anywhere, whether it’s Rutgers or anywhere else. She should stay in Louisville and not come back to the state, and Barchi should go to Louisville himself because he is not a leader. It’s dumb and dumber.”

Rutgers seems to be foundering as badly as Royal Caribbean of late.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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