Rutgers University Athletic Director Julie Hermann has big plans for the university’s athletics program. But she has some other thoughts, and maybe some of her own facts, too.
She would not mind seeing the demise of New Jersey’s leading newspaper — the Star Ledger.
The way she sees it, universities are already compensating student athletes and unionization in college football is unsustainable.
Despite being one of few openly gay Division I athletic directors, she does not care to be at the head of any proverbial gay pride parade.
And on the topic of the nation’s largest Division 1 public university athletic department subsidy? “Don’t even – [I] can’t cope with that today.”
But cope with it she did when she inexplicably visited a 400-level journalism class, in which this reporter is a student, several weeks ago.
Hermann might be considered equipped to say a few things on media ethics and law, the course’s subject matter. Since her appointment as athletic director in the spring of 2013, she has been at the brunt of a zealous media market searching for another Rutgers University scandal to run on front pages across the state.
Prior to her arrival, the Rutgers brand was involved in a coaching abuse scandal and the announcement of an age discrimination lawsuit brought against current university President Robert Barchi’s chief of staff.
Her appointment drew further media attention when allegations that she was verbally abusive to players she coached surfaced among news she was accused of sex discrimination in two lawsuits from 1998 and 2008.
Evidence for those allegations are convincing and include video and the personal confirmation of at least 10 of her former players.
Despite the clear distaste for modern media outlets’ rabid reporting, Hermann made clear she sympathized with them. “I try to be compassionate with the media, believe it or not, because I recognize what their job is…[and it] is getting just more and more challenging,” Hermann said.
She understood the demand for readership and in turn, advertising dollars, was high, and that website hits, driven by enticing headlines, equated to greater advertising revenues. But she warned that model was dangerous for college sports.
“We’re not the pros, we’re not private industry…We can’t explain what’s going on because our student athletes have protections,” Hermann said. Headlines are printed and forgotten about but the back-stories never get hashed out because federal law protects college students’ privacy, according to her.
“[That exposure] for professional athletes, that’s fine, they’re already America’s reality TV show. For college kids, it’s tough. They’re just trying to get their education – competing, wearing the colors, Scarlet Knights across their chest, so proud to represent their institution and now, easily, something…can happen that splatters them onto the national stage.”
Not only is media attention tough on college students, but it was also not easy for Hermann.
She described coverage of herself in the media since her arrival at Rutgers as “incredibly painful.”
“Twice I’ve left coaching positions because I didn’t agree with how the head coach was talking to women… No one…no woman has ever been called anything by me, ever,” Hermann said, referring to allegations she abusive towards her players.
Hermann has repeatedly denied the allegations that she verbally abused players or that she pressured an assistant coach to not get pregnant.
Evidence to the contrary includes the personal confirmation of 12 of her former players to the Star Ledger, including some who said “playing for Hermann had driven them into depression and counseling,” according to the paper, and a video of her suggesting her assistant coach avoid pregnancy.
The former players stood behind a letter written 16 years ago in which 15 members of the University of Tennessee’s women’s volleyball team claiming they had been “lied to, publicly humiliated, and ripped apart as both players and people.”
Ginger Hineline, Hermann’s former assistant coach, won $150,000 in a lawsuit against the school alleging Hermann pressured her to avoid pregnancy and ended up firing her when she became pregnant. From the Star Ledger:
[Hermann was] questioned about a 1997 jury verdict that awarded $150,000 to a former assistant coach who said Hermann fired her because she became pregnant. Hermann, [Hineline] said, felt a baby would interfere with job performance. Hermann says the assistant was fired because she was underperforming, and it had nothing to do with pregnancy.
Hineline’s allegations were backed up in the suit by video from her wedding day, in which Hermann says, “I hope its good tonight because I know you’ve been waiting for a while, but I hope it’s not too good, because I don’t want you to come back February with any surprises, you know, the office and all, and it could be hard to have a baby in there.”
Hermann, a bridesmaid, catches the wedding bouquet at the end of the video, which can be seen below, courtesy of NJ.com
Hermann has said previously that she does not remember Hineline’s wedding. After being read a transcript of her wedding day remarks, Hermann “could still not retrieve the wedding from her memory,” according the Star Ledger.
She further told the Star Ledger, “That’s probably why I’m on the videotape teasing her. It’s like, ‘Yep, we know a baby’s coming. Easy on that.’ I’m being a total, you know, smart aleck on the video. So I had no problem with her having a child. My frustration was her work level.”
Hermann admits she’s not perfect but says she prides herself on her relationship with young people.
“There are a lot of things you can criticize about me. I’ll give you the whole list. You want the whole list? I’ll call my mother and get the rest of the list for you. There’s so many things that you can critique and criticize but how I’ve managed young people across my entire 30-year career – no one’s ever been spoken to rudely, let alone inappropriately.”
That’s where her dislike of the Star Ledger seems to stems from. “That’d be great [if the Star Ledger died]. I’m going to do all I can to not to give them a headline to keep them alive because I think I got them through the summer.”
“I’ve got one guy over at the Ledger – he has one mission. That’s to get any [athletic director] at Rutgers fired. That’s his hobby,” Hermann said.
Her public coming out as gay was spurred by the New York Post’s threats to “out her” and then ESPN’s move to declare her one of few openly gay athletic director in Division 1 sports.
“It took me a long time in my life to surrender to who I am. I’ve never wanted it to be a topic or an event for me. What I’ve wanted to do is live my life normally,” Hermann said.
“It is important to me that our student athletes, whatever their ‘-ality’ is, you know, its just like, do your thing…Go love who you love.”
She’ll try to combat what she sees as an unrelenting media market with a plan to manage the athletics department’s image but will try her best to keep her name out of the news, she said.
“I’m going to do all I can to not to give them a headline to keep them alive because I think I got them through the summer.”
Hermann will have to try and keep the Rutgers brand out of the muck in the middle of some momentous happenings in college sports, including the ever-growing athletic department subsidy at the university and national topics like college football unionization and pay-t0-play initiatives.
“What’s happening [at Rutgers]…has been bad business. Part of my job is to make better business. Period,” Hermann said, referring to the lack of revenue independently generated by the Rutgers athletic department.
According to her, university projections show that the department should be off subsidy by 2022. She could be “making total bank” by selling seats currently designated for the free student section in Rutgers University’s football stadium, but the university has “made a commitment to giving those tickets to our students,” Hermann said.
She justified the $10 million of student fees in the most recent subsidy by pointing to those free seats.
Whether the years of subsidies would ever be paid back to the university has not been decided. Hermann believes that trying to pay back the subsidy would only delay the athletic department’s goal of self-sustainability. The department needs self-sustainability “so future Scarlet Knights don’t have to complain about what’s going over to athletics,” according to her.
Hermann sees unionization by student-athletes as unsustainable for most universities in the country. “We look at Alabama or we look at Florida and Texas and Ohio State and go, ‘My god, those guys are making $130 million.’ Of the 1000 institutions in this country, there is four of those.”
Rutgers is the poorest of the Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, and everyone behind the university gets even poorer, as Hermann sees it.
“What of those 1000 institutions that sponsor college sports – who can sustain the kids unionizing? Who can do that? Most of them are barely making it as it is.”
Student-athletes are already receiving benefits, Hermann contends, pointing out the idea of paying them a salary is more difficult than it seems.
“By the time we go recruit [a football player], sign him, bring him to campus, do all of their care, provide all of their medicine, all of their travel, all of their gear, all the things we’ve got to provide – by the time we’re done with him, here at Rutgers, we’ve spent over half a million dollars on him minimum…so, technically, what we’re providing for them is a value, its about $100,000. How many of you are going to walk out of here and get jobs that pay you $100,000?” Hermann said.
She would prefer future Scarlet Knights “never again have to read headlines that embarrass” them. One way she wants to do that is by keeping coaching standards high.
“In my opinion, there should never be physical contact, there should never be charging at an athlete as though you were going to have physical contact. There should be no physical threatening of a student athlete ever,” Hermann said. “I have never related to language that is sexualized, language that is gender-based.”
“[When coaches say] you’re all acting like girls – uh, thank you for marginalizing girls – I really appreciate that.”
When she first arrived at Rutgers, she told all of the coaches that, if they are at all like Mike Rice, they need to “recalibrate”.
“What happened at Rutgers is a cautionary tale for the whole country,” Hermann said, suggesting that “no less than a hundred” coaches were dismissed across the country because their student athletes stepped forward to bring attention to the way they were being treated.
“With Rice, the behavior was so pervasive and so ongoing, it was kind of a no-brainer to fire the guy, if I can say that. He should’ve been fired way earlier,” Hermann said.
Despite having much to say on how the Rutgers University athletic department was managed before her arrival, Hermann kept referring back to her first priority: giving students opportunities to succeed.
“The opportunity to do that…to work as hard as you possibly can for the opportunity to achieve is an important journey. Its an incredible journey and as a young person…its always a really important opportunity,” Hermann said.
“They can write whatever headlines they want but when they go to drill down, they’ll uncover that we took our time, we did it right and, most of all, that we put our students first. So this is really entirely about our students, always has been.”