NEW BRUNSWICK — The email that Rutgers football coach Kyle Flood allegedly sent to an instructor in one of his player’s classes would be forbidden on several other schools in the Big Ten, according to a NJ Advance Media survey of campus policies.
NJ Advance Media reported earlier this week that Flood is under investigation for allegedly sending an email from his personal account to an instructor on the New Brunswick campus about a player who is reportedly in danger of being deemed academically ineligible.
Flood did not reveal the name of the instructor or the content of the email. Both NCAA rules and Rutgers’ policy forbid coaches from lobbying professors to change players’ grades.
But Flood told reporters he regularly has interactions with professors about his players and sees nothing wrong with asking instructors “whether or not there would be an opportunity to earn a better grade.”
Across the country, rules on coach-professor interactions vary by campus. But several schools in the Big Ten, the athletic conference Rutgers joined last year, said they have clear policies banning coaches from having any contact with their player’s teachers.
The issue is at the heart of the complex relationship between sports and academics on college campuses with big time athletics programs. Rutgers and other schools in money-generating athletics conferences are under pressure to keep their player’s grades up, so they are academically eligible to play under NCAA rules.
Meanwhile, university officials want to keep the professors from being pressured to treat athletes any differently than they would other students.
At Purdue University, a football coach would get in trouble for sending any type of communication to a player’s professor, said Tom Schott, athletics spokesman for the Big Ten school.
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“It is not permitted at Purdue, as outlined in our guidelines on ethical conduct,” Schott said.
Most schools, including Rutgers, employee academic services personnel to serve as a liaison between student-athletes and professors to help arrange for making up assignments and classes missed due to travel, practice or games.
Several schools said they forbid coaches from talking directly to professors because even innocuous conversations about a player’s well-being could be interpreted as pressure to improve a player’s grade.
At the University of Maryland, officials said coaches should never speak to faculty members about any aspect of an athlete’s academic performance in class.
“This policy should not be interpreted to suggest that all contact with faculty by coaches need follow this policy. For example, coaches may serve on campus committees, have friendships with faculty members, etc.,” the University of Maryland policy states.
The University of Illinois’ policy says all communications about student-athletes’ performance need to go through one of the school’s associate directors of athletics. Indiana University and the University of Minnesota have similar rules spelling out exactly which channels coaches need to navigate when they want to make an inquiry about an athlete’s academic work.
“It is extremely restrictive,” Christopher Werle, a University of Minnesota athletics spokesman, said of the school’s faculty-coach contact policy.
‘Integrity of the grading process’
At Rutgers, the controversy over Flood’s alleged email to a professor has caused confusion on campus.
The faculty union, which represents professors and part-time lecturers at the 65,000-student state university, called on Rutgers President Robert Barchi last week to clarify exactly when and if coaches can speak to faculty about athletes.
“I’m very glad the university is investigating this,” said David Hughes, an anthropology professor who heads the faculty union. “The university should reaffirm the integrity of the grading process.”
Hughes said he does not know the identity of the professor involved in the Flood case. But he believes it is a part-time instructor who is paid less than $5,000 a class.
Barchi and other university officials have declined to comment on the issue. In a statement, a Rutgers spokesman said the school would have no comment until the investigation into Flood’s email is complete.
Rutgers’ athletics compliance policy states: “Coach-initiated contact of any type (e.g., oral, written, etc.) is not permitted between any member of the coaching staff and any Rutgers faculty member or associated instructional staff (teaching assistant, co-adjutant, part-time lecturer, etc.) with respect to any student-athlete.”
RELATED: Rutgers compliance policy prohibits coach-initiated contact with faculty
But Flood, who has worked at Rutgers for a decade and been head coach for four years, said that is not the common practice on campus.
“Any correspondence that I had with a professor in regard to a student-athlete would really be of this nature: One, to be in support of whatever decision that faculty member made, and two, to inquire as to whether or not there would be an opportunity to earn a better grade,” Flood said earlier this week.
Flood also said it is common for Rutgers athletes to get “T-grades,” or temporary grades, that allow them to do make-up work after the end of the semester to make up for classes they missed and boost their final grades.
Flood did not specifically address what he said in the email he allegedly sent to an instructor in Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts. NJ Advance Media reported the correspondence was allegedly about cornerback Nadir Barnwell, a junior in danger of losing his playing status because of low grades.
Barnwell declined to discuss the situation. Earlier this month, he referred questions about his academic status to Flood.
Rutgers has historically had a good reputation for educating its student-athletes. Earlier this year, the university tied for 12th in the nation in a NCAA ranking that looked at academic eligibility, student retention, graduation rates and other classroom indicators among its players in all sports.
Rutgers’ football team has also been praised by the NCAA for its academic success. The Scarlet Knights have ranked in the top 10 percent of teams nationally eight consecutive years — the longest streak for any state university in the nation in the academic ratings, according to the NCAA.
Rutgers is one of eight universities in New Jersey with NCAA Division I programs in various sports. Unlike the larger national universities in the Big Ten, few New Jersey universities have written policies about when a coach can take a personal interest in a player’s performance in an academic class.
At Princeton University, there is an organizational structure outlining the representatives athletics personnel need to contact in the dean’s office to discuss any academic issues involving a student.
“This protocol is adhered to and emphasized to our all our coaches on an annual basis,” said Martin Mbugua, a Princeton spokesman.
But, Seton Hall University has no written rules on when coaches can speak to professors.
“While we do not have a written policy, contact with faculty members regarding a student-athlete in their class is done by the academic support services staff. We have never had an issue with faculty members being contacted by coaches,” said Thomas Chen, assistant athletics director for digital media and communications at Seton Hall.
New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rider University also have no written policies.
“Any faculty member can file a complaint with the Provost’s Office if he or she feels they are being inappropriately solicited or coerced by anyone — not just an athletics coach — to change a student’s grade,” said Kristine Brown, a Rider spokeswoman.