From professors to politicians, questions flowed on whether Rutgers University President Robert Barchi and Athletic Director Tim Pernetti deserve the same fate as the basketball coach they fired yesterday.
Mike Rice was dismissed from the state university, more than three months after an initial suspension, following the national telecast of a video showing him physically and verbally punishing players at practices while using gay slurs and vulgarities. Pernetti said he had seen parts of the video before deciding to suspend the coach.
For completing the season last month, Rice will receive a $100,000 bonus, more than the amount he was initially fined, according to his contract.
Ten members of Rutgers’s faculty sent a letter to the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based school’s Board of Governors and Board of Trustees yesterday, demanding Barchi’s immediate resignation. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Pernetti should be fired or step down, while three state assemblywomen called for an investigation into the administration’s handling of the scandal.
“Although President Barchi is now suggesting otherwise, he has known about Coach Rice’s homophobic, misogynist and abusive behavior for several months now,” the faculty members said. “Not only did he not fire Coach Rice, he in essence covered up the coach’s actions by failing to tell faculty and students about them.”
The initial suspension of Rice was announced in December, three weeks after Rutgers was invited to join the Big Ten Conference, a move from the Big East Conference that may increase the school’s athletic-department income by millions of dollars.
Rice was dismissed a day after the ESPN program “Outside the Lines” televised the tape, collected at practices from 2010 to 2012. Barchi said yesterday that he had concurred with Pernetti’s initial judgment without having viewed the recording himself.
The faculty letter, which was provided by the school, said it was indicative of Barchi’s views that he “only fired Coach Rice after media attention forced him to do so.”
“There were political implications here,” said Scott Minto, director of the sports MBA program at San Diego State University. “I don’t see how as a manager you err on the side of slapping someone on the wrist unless you are making a more strategic decision overall.”
Rice had a base salary of $300,000 for the year ending April 7. He received $350,000 in additional compensation, an annual car stipend of $12,000 and a standard benefits package for university employees, according to his contract. He’ll be paid a $100,000 bonus for having completed the season because it’s contractually obligated, Jason Baum, a school spokesman, said in an e-mail.
The school isn’t planning to hold a news conference today, according to Greg Trevor, a Rutgers spokesman.
Rutgers spent $226,532 during the search for a new president that yielded Barchi in April 2012, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. His first-year base pay at Rutgers was $650,000, according to a copy of his contract provided by the school.
He was named the school’s 20th president by its Board of Governors, with 11 voting members. They acted with the advice and consent of the Board of Trustees, which has 59 votes.
Governor Chris Christie, a first-term Republican seeking re-election, said yesterday in a statement that the earlier decision to keep Rice “was a regrettable episode for the university, but I completely support the decision to remove Coach Rice.”
The governor is vacationing out of state this week. When asked whether he was inclined to call for more dismissals, his spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said via e-mail that his office “won’t have anything additional today in all likelihood.”
Barchi said in a statement yesterday that he was initially notified last fall after Pernetti viewed video excerpts of Rutgers’s practices. The school hired an independent investigator to examine the issue and he and Pernetti then agreed that Rice should be suspended for three games, fined $50,000 and ordered to undergo counseling, Barchi said.
“Yesterday, I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior,” Barchi said.
The president shouldn’t have waited so long to get more involved, particularly in the aftermath of the scandal at Penn State University, where former school President Graham Spanier was charged with conspiring to conceal reports of ex-football coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys, said Kadence Otto, an associate professor of the College of Business at Western Carolina University.
“After the Penn State fallout, people have been writing about the danger of criminal charges and the notion of vicarious liability,” Otto said in a telephone interview.
“You can’t walk into court and just claim you didn’t know what your employees were doing,” Otto said. “If there was evidence of a video and you either watched two minutes of it or didn’t dig into the fact that there was more tape, I do think that the onus of responsibility is on the athletic director and the president.”
Universities across the nation, particularly at the top division of college athletics, are making choices based more on chasing revenue than promoting education, according to Warren Zola, the assistant dean for graduate programs in the Carroll School of Management at Boston College.
“That level of pressure on any institution to generate revenue, to be part of the landscape of conference realignment, has created undue pressure where 20 years ago it may not have existed,” Zola said in a telephone interview. “These sorts of scenarios are predictable based on this evolution.”
State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat from East Orange, said yesterday she will call for legislative hearings on why Rice wasn’t fired sooner.
Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, a Democrat from Bridgton who heads her house’s higher education committee, said Rutgers leaders “must explain to the people of New Jersey why Mr. Rice’s firing didn’t happen sooner and how such an abusive environment was ever permitted to exist at our state university.”
“If the Rutgers administration refuses to explain itself, I will seek to get the answers,” Riley said in a statement yesterday.
In another statement yesterday, Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, a Republican from Ocean Township, called for an investigation “to determine if anyone else is accountable for tolerating behavior that is way out of bounds.”
Sweeney, a Democrat from West Deptford, questioned why it took so long for Rice’s actions to become public. Pernetti must go, the lawmaker said in a statement today.
“Mr. Pernetti deserves recognition for getting Rutgers into the Big Ten,” Sweeney said. “But we have to ask if that effort clouded his judgment on this matter.”
After negotiating Rutgers’s exit to the Big Ten, Pernetti in March was among five nominees for Athletic Director of the Year in the 2013 Sports Business Awards.
Pernetti, whose current annual salary is $452,769, signed a five-year contract in 2009, with benefits including a $12,000 car stipend and an opportunity to earn as much as $50,000 in bonuses for reaching academic, financial and competitive goals.
The agreement states that the athletic director reports to the president and is a member of the president’s cabinet.
Pernetti can be fired for, among other things, neglect of duty, act of moral turpitude and conduct tending to bring shame or disgrace to the university as reasonably determined by the president.
With players on year-to-year scholarships and afraid to speak out about improper coaching behavior, it’s the responsibility of administrators such as Pernetti and Barchi to protect them, Minto said.
“If you are the 19-year-old whistle-blower here, what benefit is it to speak up when this guy holds your financial and professional future in his hands while he’s winging basketballs at you,” said Minto. “The administrators, whose greatest concern is for the bottom line, are the ones who are supposed to protect them and now must be held responsible.’
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