Clearing the Rot at Rutgers: Too little, too late

Rutgers waited 5 months to fire a violent coach, only after being exposed by ESPN earlier this week.  I want to know why did it take so long?

First, the facts. In November of 2012, the Director of Personnel for the basketball team, Erich Murdock, delivered a video to Rutger’s Athletic Director, Tim Pernetti, showing Head Coach Tim Rice yelling homophobic slurs, physically assaulting players, and throwing basketballs at players’ heads from a mere few feet.  Pernetti shared the video with Rutger’s President, Robert Barachi.  Barachi then requested the advice of both internal and external counsel (individuals that had not seen the tape), which recommended a 3-game suspension in December of 2012, a fine (some sources state $50,000 and others $75,000), and anger management courses for Rice.  At the conclusion of 2012, Murdoch – the man brave enough to come forward with evidence of misconduct –  was informed that his contract would not be renewed.

ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” aired the story Tuesday of this week, after getting a copy of the tape and interviewing Murdoch.  Since then ESPN’s video of the incident has gone viral, and launched a barrage of public condemnation, including comments by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and LeBron James.  Finally, on Wednesday, Rutgers announced, via Twitter, that Rice was fired.

So, this begs the question:  Was Rice fired for being abusive, or because a video tape of him being abusive was viral?  It is no doubt, the second reason, whether by design or de facto.  People obviously knew of Rice’s behavior well before Murdoch brought the video to Pernetti.  Perhaps not Pernetti himself – in the ESPN interview, Murdoch states that whenever Pernetti came to a men’s basketball team practice, Rice was on exemplary behavior.  But if you watch the video, any reasonable person can conclude that Rice’s behavior was wrong, and that players were being maltreated, as far back as 2010 (they same year, coincidentally, that Rutgers made national news for the suicide of Tyler Clementi after being bullied and intimidated by his roommate, Dhuran Ravi, for being gay).  Since Rice’s hiring, students have left the team for other, lesser teams.  The writing was on the wall – but no one was reading it.

What I cannot wrap my head around is, how could the leadership at Rutgers think that a mere suspension and fine of $75,000 (for someone that makes $700,000 a year) was the right thing to do when first shown the video, instead of simply firing Rice then?  By waiting until now to fire him, the leadership is implicitly stating that “Hey, as long as no one knows what you are doing, then it is not wrong.”  Physically abusing students and yelling any type of intimidating slur is wrong – no matter when or how it is done.  It is somewhat mind-numbing that Rutgers failed to be aggressive with Rice, especially in the wake of the Penn State child molestation scandal.

Rutgers will undoubtedly have their reasons: Experts state that over the past two years, Rutgers was being reviewed for entry into the prestigious Big 10, and that they did not want anything to compromise their entry.  Pernetti and Barachi have stated on record that they wanted to ‘rehabilitate’ Rice, hence the fines, suspension, and anger management courses, and that Rice was then informed he was henceforth on a ‘zero tolerance’ policy.

Too little too late.  Perhaps zero tolerance is what everyone should start with when it comes to abusing students, not after they are already caught continually doing so.  Waiting for atrocious behavior to finally be made public before addressing it, is in itself atrocious.  Rutgers has started to clear the rot from their ranks with the dismissal of Rice.  But how do we address the bigger problem found in college athletics: That leadership fails to act as leaders when confronted with evidence of misconduct?  When does the zero tolerance policy for ignoring misconduct and physically abusing students start?


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