There were encouraging moments last season: a 14-7 halftime lead over Tennessee, a modest (if unsuccessful) comeback after trailing 21-0 at Virginia Tech, a 17-14 lead over Miami after three quarters. Those three teams were ranked 10th, third and first, respectively, when the Scarlet Knights played them. "Those were not moral victories," Schiano says. "They were tangible proof our program will get better."
Athletic director Mulcahy shares that optimism and insists that the school can win at football without forfeiting its academic integrity. Mulcahy points to Michigan and Cal, both of which, like Rutgers, rank among the nation's leading research universities. "They successfully combine academics with high-level athletics," he says. "So why can't Rutgers figure out how to do it? It's not brain surgery."
Yet critics on campus contend that the university has already neglected its mission by focusing money and resources on a program that has little to do with education. They argue that with Big East football gutted, now is the ideal moment for Rutgers to clamber out of the swamp of commercialized college athletics, to make sports incidental if not inconsequential in campus life.
The only time Schiano's mood darkens during five hours of conversation is when this subject arises. "Where do they want us to go?" he asks. "I-AA? You're going to lose more money in I-AA than you do now. D-III? A major state research institution playing Division III athletics? Maybe there are some, but that's a hard model to find. Maybe you'd be starting a model with that one."
Give Professor Dowling a drafting table and a mechanical pencil, and get the hell out of the way.
William C. Dowling strolls back and forth in his classroom, bearded chin in hand, answering questions. Sometimes he shuts his eyes while making a point, as if carefully composing each word. He is teaching Milton's Paradise Lost, discussing a section on how Eve persuaded Adam to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Dowling describes the passage as "the hardest 20 lines in English literature."
Dowling's work often focuses on heroism. His Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard was on James Boswell and the idea of the hero in the late 18th century. He taught a course in 1996, Mirror of the Enlightenment, in which students read not only Locke and Gibbon in English, but also Voltaire and Diderot in French. He says those students made a heroic effort, one that went unacknowledged on campus, despite being at least as praiseworthy as, say, rushing for 100 yards against Syracuse.
Dowling, 59, lives near Princeton, about 16 miles from the Rutgers campus, so it is more convenient for him to do research in the Princeton University library, which is, not surprisingly, superior to Rutgers's. "You can't afford books when you're buying linebackers," Dowling says. He characterizes his school's athletic program as "a Sophoclean tragedy, starring the Three Stooges"—presumably McCormick, Mulcahy and Schiano.
"The Division III model is very useful," Dowling says as he polishes off a plate of eggs at a hangout across from the Princeton campus. "Good major private universities—like Washington U in St. Louis, Emory and NYU—have what we want for Rutgers. The admissions office accepts a class, and those who are good at football or baseball go out for it in the same way people who are good at theater go out for theatrical productions. We want Rutgers to be the first [major] public school in the U.S. to do this. It'd be a shining beacon to every other public institution, an example for the nation that also gets us out of the morass."
In the mid-1990s Dowling became faculty adviser to a group called Rutgers 1000, which is made up of more than 1,000 alumni and students who want the university to drop Division I athletics. The group rose to prominence in 1998 after the school alumni magazine refused to accept an advertisement from Rutgers 1000 trumpeting a statement of support from that other Milton, Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedman (class of '32). Rutgers 1000 sued and won. The ensuing publicity—and the $465,331 in legal bills run up by the school—made Rutgers look stiff-necked, scared and ridiculous.