Mission failed at Rutgers
Column by Ken Cohen
April 5, 2013 Here's the ultimate irony with the Mike Rice situation at Rutgers: an All-Access video collection of Rutgers' first basketball practices this season under Rice is on sale online for $149. It was produced with Rice's consent and edited to show everything that goes into a Rutgers basketball practice. Well, not really everything. That video we got courtesy of former assistant coach Eric Murdock (free, I might add) and showed Rice throwing balls at players' heads and feet, cursing them and making gay slurs.
For that adult behavior, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti and school president Robert Barchi suspended Rice for three games, fined him $50,000 and had him seek anger management. They have since fired him after the Murdoch videos went viral and public outcry ensued.
How Pernetti and Barchi still have jobs is just one of many questions that need to be answered as this unfortunate and unacceptable episode unfolds at the expense of New Jersey taxpayers. Let's remember, Rutgers is a public school.
Pernetti has since admitted he was wrong as has Rice. That grossly falls short here. Only termination is appropriate. Pernetti is just as guilty as Rice for watching these videos last November and not immediately dismissing him as coach. He let those young men on the Rutgers basketball team have subsequent contact with Rice, exposing them to even more abuse and disrespect. That's inexcusable negligence for someone who's own athletic department mission statement reads: "the Division’s student-athletes, coaches, staff and programs shall embody the core values of accountability, respect, integrity, academic achievement, community service, fairness, diversity, and sportsmanship."
Question two: did Rice act this way at Robert Morris, where he coached before coming to Rutgers? Some of his former players say yes; some say not really. There's general consensus that he threw balls at players, grabbed them and was verbally abusive. Did it reach an extreme as presented in the video from Rutgers? Perhaps not, but still there was the undercurrent of uncontrollable outbursts that Rice brought with him to Rutgers. Maybe that's what Pernetti was looking for when he hired Rice someone who was going to push any and all buttons to get results.
Question three: would Rice had been fired if Rutgers were winning? Let's face it, Bobby Knight grabbed, choked, yelled and belittled his players also. But he won two national championships and a ton of games. It wasn't until he started losing at Indiana that the pressure mounted to get rid of him because of his over-the-top antics.
Question four: why were none of the assistant coaches reprimanded? They were all at these practices and saw what was happening. They had the same responsibility as Rice to uphold the school's mission and protect the student-athletes. They failed to do so and should be accountable as well.
Question five: what would have happened if one of those balls Rice threw at a player resulted in a serious injury? This possibility alone should have been grounds for his immediate firing.
Finally, how come no players rebelled against this abuse? I realize these are kids who want to play at any cost. But they're also human beings who should defend their dignity when it is trashed. Other players in similar situations have.
Even in Rice's All-Access video, he uses terms such as "punishment" and "consequences" when talking about getting players to do the right thing. Conveniently, the All-Access video didn't show those "consequences." But thankfully the Murdock video did and it didn't cost $149.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” will appear every Friday.