By Kristian Dyer
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In the wake of today’s unprecedented and sweeping action by NCAA president Mark Emmert, giving Penn State a fate worse than the death penalty, college football and athletics as a whole is left to grapple with the fallout from the sanctions. What it clearly shows is that the Nittany Lions are paying a price for putting wins and losses above the impact on victims.
Scholarship losses and bowl game banishment is just the tip of the iceberg for a university so obsessed with football that it forgot common right and wrong.
There are no winners and losers from today’s news, as noted by Emmert in remarks from Indianapolis, but clearly some level of justice in a sports sense has been levied at Penn State. The conspiracy and cover up to keep Sandusky’s abuse of young victims under wraps is the worst of sports and in fact, humaity. It is also a reminder that, two weeks before the start of training camp down at Rutgers, that there are ways to build a program and a winning reputation that don’t shortchange the law.
A lot can be said about Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano and his legacy with the Scarlet Knights. The man spoke boldly of winning the Big East and challenging for national championships when he was hired late in 2000, something he failed to do in his 11 years “On the Banks.” Instead, his record was a decidedly average 68-67 in rebuilding the program and only once did he finish a season ranked. But one thing that Schiano did do was run a tight ship that avoided the murkiness of the shadows and the corruption seen in places like Columbus and Tuscaloosa and now, most recently in State College.
And it is that type of program, as squeaky clean as they come, that Kyle Flood inherits this August as a first year head coach.
Rutgers won’t be listed in any national polls to start the season and they, despite a strong finish to last year, aren’t likely to be considered contenders in the weak and watered down Big East. But Flood talked on Signing Day about bringing aboard “Rutgers men” and building a program based on integrity.
It means that Piscataway won’t be caught up in the trap that ensnares tutors to take tests for players or athletes to sell souvenirs in exchange for cars or tattoos. It will mean that, even if the results don’t take the program to the top of the polls, that Rutgers and the athletic administration will be proud of what happens off the field as much as the wins on it.
Under Schiano, arrests of players were next to nil and the Academic Progress Rate was consistently among the best in the nation. Players graduated and those that didn’t do so in four or five years went to the NFL and came back to continue their classes so as to earn their degree. They excelled on the field, with the likes of Ray Rice and the McCourty twins and Jamaal Westerman being the Scarlet Knights representation on Sundays.
And they won the right way with integrity just as they lost with character and grace befitting men.
Today, more than other days, is a time to remember what college sports is really about. The “college” comes first in this equation, the “sports” is secondary to what should be happening with these young men and women. Their experience over four years in college shouldn’t be about conference championships and professional contracts. It can and should be what Schiano stood for all those years as he built a program the long, hard way. Learning can and should take place away from the playbook and the film room, something Rutgers has stood for the past decade, even when wins were hard to come by.
During those dark years like 2004 when Rutgers finished 4-7 and sixth in the Big East, it would have been easy for Schiano to cut corners. He could have recruited players with questionable backgrounds, could have gotten grades fixed and bribed professors to make things easier on his stars. Payments could have been made to parents and players and go-betweens to land star recruits.
But here, Rutgers chose in the little things to do the right thing.
Consistently, Schiano and now Flood have chosen to take the high road. From 2005 on, Rutgers has had only one losing season and has five bowl wins during that stretch, among the best postseason records in the nation. Wins came the right way, losses handled with dignity.
On a day when the blue and white get a black eye, it is programs like Rutgers that shine just a little brighter.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the NFL and college football for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo!Sports as well as WFAN. He can be followed @KristianRDyer