Commentary

Rutgers president and AD need to go

Mike Rice isn't the only one who should be relieved of his university duties

Updated: April 3, 2013, 3:16 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

This is no longer about the fired Mike Rice, a pathetic excuse for a coach and unemployable on college campuses forevermore. This is about the senior administrators at Rutgers University, the people who failed to protect their students from a common abuser and homophobe.

Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti said the school president, Robert Barchi, saw the tape aired by ESPN's "Outside the Lines" that showed Rice assaulting and profanely berating his students -- not NBA players, students -- and backed the initial decision to suspend Rice for three games and fine him $50,000. If true, Barchi needs to go right along with Pernetti and Rice.

In fact, any administrators who watched the coach's frightening meltdowns -- firing basketballs at students' heads and backs; grabbing, shoving and kicking them in a rage; and degrading them with homophobic and misogynistic slurs -- and thought Rice shouldn't have been terminated on the spot need to be terminated themselves.

Before Rice was finally removed Wednesday morning, Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, had watched the video that was almost harder to watch than the replay of Kevin Ware's injury in the Louisville-Duke game. "It's not the type of leadership we should be showing our young people," read the statement released by his press secretary, "and clearly there are questions about this behavior that need to be answered by the leaders at Rutgers University."

Here are a few questions for those supposed leaders at Rutgers:

How could you watch even five minutes of that footage and come to any conclusion other than Rice should never again be allowed near your students?

In the wake of Tyler Clementi's suicide, how could you decide that his hateful language alone -- sans the physical abuse -- didn't rise to the level of immediate termination?

Would you let your own sons play basketball for Mike Rice after seeing what you saw? And if not, how dare you send other people's sons back into that gym without them first seeing the video and deciding for themselves whether Rice's conduct was appropriate for their kids?

[+] EnlargePernetti-Rice
AP Photo/Rich SchultzRutgers AD Tim Pernetti suspended Mike Rice for three games, fined him $50,000 and made him undergo anger management classes for inappropriate behavior for his actions during practices from 2010-12.

Sorry, but Christie has to do more than pose hard questions here. He's the leader of the state, and those are the leaders of the state university. New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora rightfully declared, "Taxpayers should not be paying for [Rice's] behavior," and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver called not only for Rice's firing but for a thorough review "of the decision not to dismiss him."

Christie and every right-minded educator at Rutgers need to find out who saw the tape, who supported the notion that Rice only needed to be suspended, and who now must be removed with Rice in the name of common decency.

Every right-minded educator in the Big Ten should speak out, too, and apply a full-court press. Without even playing a game in their new home conference, Rutgers has surely embarrassed Big Ten officials who can't believe university leaders thought a fine, a little time off (without pay), some counseling and some on-site monitoring would leave a (supposedly) contrite Rice worthy of keeping his job.

From a distance, Pernetti has always come across as decent people, as a guy who gets it. But before succumbing to overwhelming public and media pressure Wednesday morning ("I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice. … I was wrong," the AD said after the coach's dismissal), Pernetti's judgment here was so staggeringly poor that he's lost whatever credibility he established coming in.

In his "Outside the Lines" interview, and in Tuesday's all-day damage control drill that included a viewing of the video for reporters (how about a special screening for the players' parents?), Pernetti made references to Rice being guilty of a "first offense."

The first time Rice put his hands on a player, or hit him with a fastball from point-blank range, or diminished him with a vile slur -- that was his first offense. The films don't lie, coaches like to say, and these films show Rice to be guilty of countless offenses.

Pernetti said on "OTL" that his man had "wavered" from acceptable Rutgers standards, which was tantamount to conceding that Lance Armstrong had "wavered" from the ideals of good sportsmanship. The AD also said some clips of Rice's disgusting conduct came packaged without the context of full practice sessions, as if seven minutes of abusive actions would be justified by an hour and 53 minutes of typical coach-player exchanges.

Rice is no legend -- except, apparently, in his own mind -- but this case summons some of the same troubling questions raised at Joe Paterno's Penn State, where the program and the coach were protected at all costs, leading to a scandal that shocked the world.

Was it shocking to see some ignorant, ill-tempered basketball coach at Rutgers take out his own insecurities on students who might've feared for their scholarships, or for their shot at the pros? No, this is the same school that once employed a coach who had his players run wind sprints naked after missing a few too many free throws.

What's shocking is how Rutgers reacted to the tape produced in November by Eric Murdock, a former NBA and Providence College player and Rice aide fired over the summer (Pernetti's insistence that he wasn't fired, and that his contract merely wasn't renewed, was a losing game of semantics making the AD look and sound sillier by the hour).

Murdock might be what's commonly called a disgruntled former employee, and so what? He isn't the bad guy in this case, not even close.

Again, the films don't lie, and when asked by ESPN's Jeremy Schaap if he'd absorbed the full spectrum of Rice's one-man horror show, Pernetti said, "I saw all of it."

Somehow the AD still tried to protect a coach no longer worth protecting. Somehow Barchi, the school president, went along with the plan.

They missed the point: New Jersey's state university should offer no sanctuary for common abusers. Mike Rice was fired only after millions of viewers saw what Rutgers didn't want to see.

But the administrators above Rice, the people who hoped this would all go away, can't survive that footage, either. They need to be swept out the door with their cherished little coach.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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