By Kristian Dyer
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Canonize Tim Pernetti right now.
After Gov. Chris Christie, there is no individual more powerful in the state of New Jersey right now than Pernetti, the Rutgers athletic director.
And there is also no one, I mean no one, who means more to the university’s athletic department and alumni base right now. Not current football head coach Kyle Flood, not women’s basketball head coach Vivian Stringer or men’s basketball head coach Mike Rice. Not even Greg Schiano, who left this winter to become head coach of the Buccaneers but had the vision to see Rutgers at some point leaving the Big East when there was talks of them dropping down to what was then 1-AA.
No one, I repeat no one, is owed a debt of gratitude by Rutgers more than Pernetti. The move to the Big Ten is the biggest thing to happen to RU football since they invented college football in 1869.
This move is as much about joining a new, illustrious conference as it is about leaving one that is in disarray. The Big East, in terms of football at least, has been a major mess with West Virginia leaving after last season and Pittsburgh and Syracuse departing after this year. As good as the move to the Big Ten is for the Scarlet Knights, it is equally as good to leave a conference that was a veritable hodgepodge of affiliations and programs without much history or prestige.
The Big Ten offers stability, a lucrative television deal and national exposure. But this may not even be Pernetti’s finest hour.
That came in the days and weeks after Schiano’s sudden departure for the NFL in late January, a move that happened on the stroke of National Signing Day. Pernetti was masterful in his handling of the situation, deftly dealing with the recruits who comprised the program’s best ever recruiting along with their concerns and finally making the right choice in Flood who held together the class. Now Flood is off to a 9-1 start and no one is second-guessing Pernetti’s choice.
He followed up that crisis management with months of talks with the Big Ten, and somehow sold an athletic department running in the red and without a true national powerhouse team in any sport to a place where the biggest and best play.
By every mark, Pernetti is exceeding expectations. And Tuesday’s expected news conference where he will announce a new era for Rutgers athletics is a tremendous boost for not just athletics but the entire university. Entering the Big Ten, arguably the most prestigious academic and athletic institutions in the nation outside of the Ivy League, raises the visibility of Rutgers. In the Big Ten there is access to consortiums that can help the research side of the school develop and generous revenue from a television deal that is one of the biggest in college athletics. For a Scarlet Knights program that has hemorrhaged money and seen programs cut over the past several years, the influx of cash from the Big Ten is a big deal.
In fact, it could well make the athletic department at some point sustainable and perhaps even begin contributing to the university’s academic coffers, something that would be a bona fide plus during this recession.
At 42 years old, Pernetti is showing that he’s more than just a jock turned executive and is in every meaning of the word a visionary. He has the experience at ABC Sports and most recently CBS Sports Network to understand the complexities of the ratings game and the importance of the New York-New Jersey market that Rutgers finds itself in. But he also brought a certain cache, a certain swagger to the position that is rare to find in intercollegiate athletics. What Pernetti was when he was hired over three years ago was full of ideas.
Now, he is full of realities as he has delivered yet again.
He has weathered major storms from the loss of the iconic Schiano to conference realignment and he’s made nary a false step. In every way he has proven himself to be among the very best athletic directors in the nation and now he has Rutgers, a punch line a decade ago, ready to enter the most prestigious conference in the nation and truly ready to test itself on the national stage in every sport.
He is in every way, every bit the patron saint that Rutgers has needed over the past three years.
Kristian R. Dyer covers college football for Metro New York and and also contributes to Yahoo! Sports. He can be followed on Twitter @KristianRDyer for news, insight and snarky comments.
Is Pernetti the best thing to happen to Rutgers athletics since — well, ever? Be heard in the comments below!