FRONDORF: Rutgers abuse reveals corrupt culture

I interrupt your regularly scheduled Frozen Four coverage for a public service announcement:

Did you know that all state university jobs are required to accept applications from the public? You might have heard of people jokingly applying for coaching vacancies at big schools with cover letters describing their pertinent experiences as a peewee football coach or a season ticket holder. Well, as of yesterday, the men’s basketball coaching job at Rutgers is open for all you would-be Coach Ks or Shaka Smarts.

Let’s take a step back. Until yesterday, Mike Rice was, inexplicably, still the head basketball coach at Rutgers. In a shocking exposé aired Tuesday on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” film obtained from team practices shows Rice verbally berating and physically abusing his players. It’s not just Rice dropping a few curse words or getting fired up during a passionate motivational speech. In the footage, Rice shoves his players, throws basketballs at their heads from close range, and screams homophobic slurs and creative obscenities. None of them are printable here, but type “Rutgers” into Google and you’ll find it. I’m sure the university loves search-engine optimization right now.

Revelations like this make me irrationally angry considering I have no relation to any of the parties involved. But one of my biggest problems with the sporting world today is a coach who thinks he is invincible. I can’t stand when behavior like this is joked about, passed over, or even praised as a coaching technique. In no other profession is conduct like this tolerated. Mike Rice hasn’t just made a few mistakes. He is a violent, abusive bully holding a position intended for a mentor and educator.

Yet more shocking still is that this man had a job until Wednesday. Facing the maelstrom of a horrified public, his firing was imminent. In my dreams, there would also be criminal charges. But he should have been fired back in December, when the school administration first learned of his misconduct. Instead, Rutgers Athletics Director Tim Pernetti merely chose to sidestep around the issue — somehow, he must have thought the problem was going to simply disappear. When a whistle-blower provided the tape to Pernetti back in December, Pernetti suspended Rice for a mere three games. Three games for a “first offense.” Are you kidding me? If Pernetti had been taped throwing basketballs at his staff at the Rutgers Athletics office, you can bet he would have been axed before rush hour. Instead, the AD chose to keep an abusive man as coach and fired the whistle-blower, former NBA player Eric Murdock, who is now suing Rutgers for wrongful termination.

Pernetti and Rice represent the absolute worst side of college athletics. They have forgotten — or simply don’t care about — their job description and mission. By mere coincidence, Rice was Pernetti’s first big hire as AD. Firing the coach back in December would have reflected poorly on the program and Pernetti, and may have complicated Rutgers’ pending move to the Big Ten conference. This is what happens when money and reputational concerns get conflated with what college athletics is supposed to be about in the first place: the student-athletes.

Instead, I hope Pernetti is happy with the firestorm that’s coming his way. Because after Rice’s firing (unfortunately, he’ll probably find another job with a school with low self-esteem and no morals), I guarantee the Rutgers administrators will come after Pernetti next. And if they don’t do so quickly, Rutgers President Robert Barchi could find himself in hot water as well — he saw the tape and approved Rice’s lenient punishment. Sure, this is no Penn State, but the actions of everyone involved here still fall under the category of “deplorable.” Considering these men supposedly work for students, they should probably start looking for a new line of employment.

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