NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers University's Office of General Counsel is investigating whether Kyle Flood, the school's head football coach, violated rules that are intended to keep coaches from interfering with academics.
NJ.com's Keith Sargeant reported that two sources say Flood is under investigation after he allegedly sent an e-mail from his personal account to a Mason Gross School of the Arts Faculty member regarding junior cornerback Nadir Barnwell.
Previous reports have suggested Barnwell is in danger of being ruled academically ineligible to play football for Rutgers this year.
It's not immediately clear if there was a violation of National Collegiate Athletic Assocation (NCAA) rules or the rules of the Big Ten athletic conference, but Rutgers has its own set of policies meant to comply with those.
Rutgers’ compliance policy prohibits coaches from initiating contact with faculty members regarding a student-athlete. Instead, the team's academic support staff are supposed to handle any such communications.
As the team prepares for its first game of the 2015 season, the reports on the investigation have stolen the spotlight from the team's quarterback controversy and has combined with the recent suspension of five players to cast a shadow over the team.
The same day that news of the investigation into Flood broke, the university also announced that five players will miss the first half of the September 5 game against Norfolk State as a punishment for not meeting curfew, including quarterback Chris Laviano and wide receiver Leonte Carroo.
Flood addressed the NJ.com report prior to the team's August 25 practice, saying he was "disappointed at the tone of the article."
“I think that that article not only insults my integrity, but insults the integrity of our faculty. I've come to realize that our faculty here at Rutgers is beyond reproach and I have a tremendous amount of respect for them,” Flood said.
The fourth-year coach went on to say he has had permissible interactions with professors before, including at a recent practice. He also said he would only correspond with faculty for two reasons.
“One, to be in support of whatever decision that professor made, and two, to inquire as to whether or not there would be an opportunity to earn a better grade,” Flood said.
“Now, this practice is not unusual at Rutgers. Many students all over campus receive what are called 'T grades' (temporary grades) doing work outside of when the class ends that semester to earn a better grade.”
But faculty members said it was indeed unusual, and cause for concern, if Flood was regularly in direct communication with those responsible for teaching his team members.
"There is a general understanding that only academic support personnel should talk to us – and we're under no obligation to listen," said David Hughes, an anthropology professor who leads the faculty union.
The severity of Flood’s punishment, if any, will depend on the findings of the investigation. NJ.com had reported he could potentially be suspended or fired, according to their sources.
If the investigation shows Flood did initiate contact with the faculty member, it would seem that it is a violation of the Rutgers compliance policy. However, Flood’s perceived intent could be the deciding factor in how severe the punishment is.
If Flood tried to leverage his position or otherwise persuade the faculty member into changing Barnwell’s grade or giving him special treatment, then Flood could face a fine, suspension or even termination.
But if the investigation finds Flood was simply inquiring about Barnwell’s status or asking what Barnwell can do to help his own grade, Flood seems likely to get off with a slap on the wrist, perhaps a small fine or a short suspension.
An unidentified source told ESPN’s Joe Schad that Flood’s e-mail was to "address what Barnwell could do to help his grade," not to pressure the faculty member into changing it.
Hughes told NJ.com that the faculty member in question was "likely" a part-time lecturer who earns less than $5,000 per class.
As we reported previously, Flood is the highest-paid state employee, earning an average salary of $1.15 million per year.