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Rutgers Didn’t Fire Rice to Avoid Big Ten Conflict, Poll Finds

April 19 (Bloomberg) -- More than half of New Jerseyans questioned say that Rutgers University delayed firing men’s basketball coach Mike Rice because it might have affected the school’s inclusion in the Big Ten conference, a poll by Seton Hall University said.

The New Brunswick, New Jersey, school suspended Rice in December for three games and fined him $50,000 for physically and verbally punishing players at practices while using gay slurs and other vulgarities.

When tapes of his behavior were shown on Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN network about three months later, the school fired Rice. Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, assistant coach Jimmy Martelli and university attorney John Wolf resigned.

Rutgers spokesman Jason Baum said yesterday that the school was admitted to the Big Ten before the athletic department learned about Rice’s behavior. The Big Ten has said the Rice episode won’t affect Rutgers’s status with the league.

The Seton Hall survey found that 60 percent of New Jersey respondents who have been following the Rutgers situation said Rice wasn’t fired because of concern that it could affect the school’s move to the bigger, more lucrative sports conference. Some 63 percent said Rice should have been fired as soon as video evidence came to light.

The survey was based on random phone calls to the landlines and mobile phones of 1,045 people in New Jersey between April 15 and 17 who said they were following the story. It showed that 47 percent of respondents said it was appropriate for Pernetti to resign, with 38 percent saying he was the most to blame.

“It was a complex issue, and the responses showed that,” Rick Gentile, director of the poll sponsored by the Sharkey Institute, said in a release.

Rutgers, currently a member of the Big East conference, has been accepted into the Big Ten and could join as soon as the fall of 2014. The move may generate an additional $18 million in annual revenue for the school’s athletic department, which has one of the most subsidized sports departments in major college sports.

To contact the reporter on this story: Curtis Eichelberger in Wilmington, Delaware at ceichelberge@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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