On April 23, Rutgers introduced Eddie Jordan as the new men's basketball coach. Nearly three weeks earlier, ESPN had aired video of the previous coach, Mike Rice, calling his players "fucking faggots" and chucking basketballs at their heads. From the beginning, Jordan was presented a sort of institutional amulet who would ward off all the bad juju left behind by Rice and by some of Rice's predecessors.
It was a smart choice made at the intersection of the school's PR concerns and its basketball hopes. Here was a good, smart coach whose NBA teams—the Wizards, the 76ers, and the Kings—played entertaining, if not always winning, ball. And here, more importantly, was a hire from within the Rutgers family. Jordan was a star of Rutgers's celebrated 1976 Final Four team, and in 2004, he was inducted into the the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni, alongside James Gandolfini, Mario Batali, and Jeff Torborg. At his induction ceremony, he was referred to as a graduate, class of '77. In 2000, Jordan said, "Rutgers is a terrific place. This is where my heart and soul is. They're going to bury me somewhere on these grounds."
The third line of his new bio on the Rutgers website says it all:
RU’s all-time leader in both assists (585) and steals (220), "Fast Eddie" scored 1,632 career points and earned honorable mention All-American honors as a senior in 1977 before earning a degree in health and physical education.
Jordan, at his opening presser, thanked the Rutgers community for its patience. Formal contract negotiations had apparently delayed his hiring (he wound up with a five-year, $6.25 million contract, the richest deal in the basketball program's history):
I want to thank [Rutgers president Robert] Barchi for his belief and trust in me. I'd like to thank our Board of Governors and our Board of Trustees who understood the meaning of due diligence. People have taken some criticism on the length of time, but the due diligence was very important in their minds and in their actions to get this thing right. And I'm glad that they chose me.
About that due diligence: Despite all the accolades he's received from the university and despite the school's many claims to the contrary, Jordan hasn't actually finished his degree, according to the Rutgers registrar's office. The office sent me a verification document, found below, that indicates that Jordan attended classes at Rutgers from 1973 to 1977. He went on to take more classes in 1978, 1981, and 1985. There was no degree listed in the document. I called up the registrar's office on Thursday and asked for clarification.
"He did not receive a degree from us," an official there told me.
According to the registrar's office, Jordan had earned 103 credits at Rutgers, short of the threshold for a degree (the official told me that the "minimum" threshold for a degree is usually 110 credits and, depending on the year, sometimes even a little higher—more like 120). [Note, 5:07 p.m.: Credits aren't the same thing as the credit hours listed in the document.] I asked if it was possible that he finished those credits at a different school and got a degree later. The official said there was no record of transferred credits from another institution.
It's not clear where or when Jordan was first referred to as a graduate. The earliest reference I could find is a 1998 brief in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that referred to Rutgers as his alma mater. Since then there have been dozens of stories that called him an alum. In 2003, the Washington Post's "Coach's file" infobox listed his college as "Rutgers ('77)," and four years later the same paper called Jordan a "proud Rutgers grad." The Lakers media guide—Jordan served most recently as an assistant coach in Los Angeles—referred to Rutgers as his alma mater.
Whatever the source of the confusion, it would've been easy enough to clear up in the course of the school's due diligence. (Why Jordan never bothered doing it himself is another matter.) The registrar's office is a three-minute drive from the athletic department's offices. Jordan's bona fides as a basketball coach are impeccable, with or without a degree, and it's doubtful that a missing academic credential would've derailed his hiring.
Instead, we have scandal-plagued Rutgers making a big show of due diligence that the school apparently didn't do.
"I have come to know Eddie Jordan as an open, honest and terrific person to lead our men's basketball program," said the interim athletic director, Carl Kirschner, in the press release announcing Jordan's appointment. "Rutgers is very fortunate to have Eddie return to his alma mater to restore pride in the program."
Jordan himself said:
I'm really honored and blessed to be named the caretaker of our team, of our program, of our university's basketball program. I say "our" because we've all come to a point that we have to regain our pride, our dignity and our integrity to our university.
When a reporter asked him what his pitch would be to potential recruits, Jordan said: "Number one, you enjoy the Rutgers experience. It's a great place to be. It's a great degree."
We asked the university for comment. Here's a statement:
Eddie Jordan was inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2004 and he has been a part of the Rutgers family since 1977. His athletic skills and leadership and his professional accomplishments have been a source of pride for Rutgers for more than three decades. We are excited to have him as our men’s basketball coach and we look forward to many winning seasons.