Don't look now, but Rutgers might be OK

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
2:15
PM ET
J.J. MooreCharles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPittsburgh transfer J.J. Moore could help Rutgers return to respectability much more quickly than first thought.

When a coach loses his job the way Mike Rice lost his job at Rutgers last spring — when video of insane practice abuses becomes a mainstream living-room talking point that furrows brows on the "Today Show" and raises cackles on "Saturday Night Live" — you do not expect the recovery to be quick.

Usually, Rice-level disasters are attended by nuclear fallout. Players flee the scene. Recruiting connections dry up. It takes years to restore a program's good name, to prove to parents that their kids are in good hands.

Considering Rutgers is not exactly a paragon of historical basketball success — and considering the fact that Rice's motivational tactics had yet to yield their first .500 season at the school — well, the calculus should be simple. Rutgers should be awful in 2013-14, and not much better beyond it.

Not so much, actually. The Scarlet Knights might not contend for a national title in 2013-14, but they are looking shockingly competitive. And it's all thanks to transfers.

Yes, transfers, specifically the legislative relief waiver some transfers can receive after appealing the NCAA and proving their move was due to financial hardship or family illness. That's how J.J. Moore, a junior Pittsburgh wing who played good, efficient basketball in just under 20 minutes per game for Jamie Dixon last season, became eligible for the 2013-14 season, as Rutgers announced Monday. The Long Island native transferred to Rutgers to be closer to his family, specifically his daughter and his ailing grandfather, and will be allowed to play right away this season.

Just a few weeks ago, that same mechanism — the legislative relief waiver — appeared to be working against the Scarlet Knights in arguably unfair ways. Rutgers fans, and frankly the entire college hoops world, were puzzled (which is putting it politely): Just months after Rutgers' players began to stream out of the post-Rice morass, receiving waivers along the way, Iowa State transfer Kerwin Okoro, whose father and brother passed away in New York last winter, was denied his claim. The NCAA's famed inconsistency seemed to be at work. The system appeared to be broken. That's what I was writing about, anyway, but Rutgers had more immediate concerns.

And then, just like that, the Okoro insanity quietly lifted. Moore followed. Now Rutgers' lineup will feature Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears, products of Rice's touted 2011 recruiting class, in the backcourt, with Moore on the wing and senior Wally Judge and sophomore Kadeem Jack in the frontcourt.

That is not a bad lineup. Is it good enough to compete with Louisville for the inaugural American Conference crown? No. Is it good enough to make the NCAA tournament? Possibly, though I tend to doubt it. But it is good enough to avoid the archetypal post-scandal season — single-digit wins, depressed fans who resign themselves to cheering for floor burns, court-storms after otherwise mediocre conference wins. Nobody wants that, and Rutgers is likely to avoid it. Meanwhile, Jordan's hands aren't tied by sanctions or lost scholarships. The uniqueness of Rice's firing, as crazy as it was, doesn't come with the usual tangible downsides.

The lesson, as always: The legislative relief waiver giveth and the legislative relief waiver taketh away. Rutgers finally got on the right side of that equation this week.

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