The suspension of Rutgers football coach Kyle Flood this week, instead of his termination, is sending the wrong message to the public and potential future student-athletes, according to a crisis communications expert in Montclair.

Rutgers football coach Kyle Flood (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

“The fact that they haven’t fired Coach Flood is another symbol and statement about how they’re elevating sports,” said Larry Kopp, head of The TASC Group, a New York/New Jersey public relations crisis firm. “They only care at this point about their Division I sports program. Football rules the day there.”

Flood’s three-game suspension and $50,000 fine were announced Wednesday after a lengthy investigation confirmed he contacted a faculty member to discuss the academic standing of a student-athlete. A letter from the university president pointed to an email conversation and face-to-face meeting between Flood and the professor.

“What they’re saying is that a coach…can tread into the academic realm…and not be terminated, not be fired, and only be suspended,” Kopp said. “They’re allowing the athletic program to continue to damage the university again and again and again.”

News of Flood’s suspension broke just days after a star player on the team was arrested and suspended for allegedly slamming a woman into the ground following Saturday’s game against Washington State. Less than 10 days prior, a handful of players were arrested and then dismissed from the team for their alleged involvement in a series of violent crimes, including home invasions and a street assault.

According to Kopp, an institution such as Rutgers “can’t keep enduring these types of hits.”

“I think they assume that their brand is infallible and that it can’t be damaged, and I would argue that their brand has been profoundly damaged over the last few years,” he said.

Kopp said prospective students would easily dismiss Rutgers as an option if news about the university keeps suggesting the school is more interested in protecting its athletic program rather than academics.

To top it off, it was determined late last year that Flood, in 2015, would become the highest-paid state employee in New Jersey.

State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Livingston), meanwhile, is showing support for Coach Flood and said the punishment handed down by the president is a bit excessive.

“He deserved maybe a one-game suspension,” Codey said. “It should’ve been one and done right away, to remove the clouds and move on.”

Codey acknowledged Rutgers is among the top universities when it comes to the level of football players’ grades.

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