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Barchi's airball on Rice is a scarlet letter for Rutgers

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Just as March Madness was starting to heat up last month, a business journal out of Indianapolis took a detailed look at how Butler University's president in 1989 hatched a plan to reinvigorate his flagging school by pouring its resources into its woebegone basketball program.

Here in New Jersey, of course, the talk is whether the opposite will come true as the fallout from the ham-fisted handling of former coach and current angry person Mike Rice continues to draw front-page headlines around the state. Now, the question is whether the highly touted Robert Barchi will be able to accomplish the grand turnaround envisioned at Rutgers. He was trying so hard to look the other way to avoid watching footage from basketball practice that he stepped into quicksand that cost him a huge asset in athletic director Tim Pernetti.

Rutgers now finds itself at a major crossroads, again. The last year was huge for the school — the higher education merger became law, it landed the president it so desperately needed to bring those merged assets together, it saw the successful passage of the bond referendum and got its invitation to the Big 10. Maybe the other shoe was just bound to drop sometime, but what a mess it's plopped into — and all because the president didn't watch a few minutes of a video before it was handed to ESPN.

If Barchi was the guy to incorporate a medical school into Rutgers, Pernetti was the guy to bring Rutgers into the Big 10. His loss is huge. And the outrage we've seen from alumni and donors is just as troubling as the political football we're about to see, as lawmakers threaten investigations into the school's handling of the Rice affair. That could quickly become a big story for Democrats desperate to put some chinks in Chris Christie's otherwise undented armor in an election year. Barchi previously told NJBIZ how the prestige of being part of the Big 10 would help drive attention to Rutgers as a leader in research.

The business community desperately needs a successful Rutgers, and we still believe Barchi is the best man to do it. But we need to know he's in the trenches with sorting through all the moving parts associated with the merger. This is a troubling start to what should be a glorious time on the banks of the Old Raritan.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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