I got around to watching the infamous video of former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice. Wow. You know a coach is in deep trouble when his actions make Bobby Knight look like Father Flanagan by comparison.
It was appalling. My mouth fell open when I watched Rice firing basketballs at his players, kicking and shoving them, and spewing homophobic insults at practice. But I can’t say it was any great surprise. Nothing surprises me about major college sports anymore.
There’s too much money involved in the corrupt enterprise of college sports nowadays, too much at stake for the schools and coaches. People cheat. They pay players. They admit kids who can barely read and write. Rice felt so much pressure to win that he abused his athletes.
Rice isn’t the first coach to bully his players. He’s not even the first basketball coach to embarrass New Jersey’s state university. When Kevin Bannon was the Rutgers head coach 15 years ago, he once had players run sprints naked if they missed free throws during practice.
It’s also no surprise that Rutgers waited until ESPN showed the abuse on “Outside The Lines” before firing Rice. Tim Pernetti, the athletic director, was well aware of Rice’s problems. Eric Murdock, a former assistant coach and one-time NBA player, had told him about Rice’s dubious methods last June and given him the evidence on videotape this past November.
Pernetti investigated and suspended Rice for three games and fined him $50,000 early this season. He also ordered him to attend anger management classes. According to the Newark Star-Ledger, Pernetti told university president Robert Barchi that Rice’s behavior was not serious enough to warrant his dismissal.
Evidently, Barchi took Pernetti’s word for it. He didn’t ask to see the videotape. In announcing Rice’s firing on Wednesday, Rutgers mentioned “a review of previously discovered issues.” Once the evidence was out for the world to see, the president must have felt it was worth a look, after all.
Does this begin to remind you of the Penn State story? Granted, shoving a 20-year-old is a minor offense alongside the sodomizing of little boys. But the same essential phenomenon is at play. At some level, top officials at a major state university turned their heads to avoid the possibility of an athletic scandal.
Rutgers will be joining the Big Ten next year. They’re big winners in the breakup of the old Big East. The TV money will be pouring in. Pernetti is given a lot of credit for steering Rutgers toward the Big Ten, though it probably didn’t take a genius to say yes to a better league.
So it wouldn’t look good for Pernetti if Rice, his star hire, lost his $650,000 a year job for abusing players. Pernetti opted for his coach’s “rehabilitation.” His idea of rehab couldn’t have involved the nation seeing Rice fire basketballs at his players, along with misogynistic and homophobic invective.
How could Pernetti have been dumb enough to think the video wouldn’t get out? What, he didn’t think Murdock, who was let go last summer, would make a copy of the tape? But that’s like asking how Penn State officials could expect Jerry Sandusky’s crimes to go undiscovered.
On the “Outside The Lines” report, three former Rutgers players said they were never interviewed about Rice’s abusive behavior. Some investigation, eh? It’s amazing, in light of the events at Penn State, that the president of a major university would sign off on the findings without bothering to see the tape.
On Thursday, a group of Rutgers faculty demanded that Barchi resign as president for his “inexcusable handling” of the Rice case.
Big-time college sports can make bumbling fools of anyone. Greed, desperation and fear make otherwise intelligent people lie and hide to protect the college sports monolith. Bank accounts and reputations are on the line. Who wants to be the fink who uncovers the dark truth and puts livelihoods at risk?
You don’t think fortunes are at stake? A week ago, Andy Enfield was the coach at Florida Gulf Coast. He was a cute story, the guy who took the newest school in Division I to the Sweet 16. Early this week, USC hired Enfield at a reported $1.5 million a year – 10 times his Gulf Coast salary.
There’s a lot of pressure to capitalize on your opportunities in major college sports and hit paydirt. I still believe Manti T’eo used the sad tale of his imaginary girlfriend to enhance his image and marketability as an iconic college football “student-athlete.”
When it comes to scandal and greed, college sports are the gift that keeps on giving. On Thursday, a report by Selena Roberts accused Auburn football of changing grades and paying top players not to leave for the pros under former coach Gene Chizik.
Chizik guided Auburn to the national title in 2011 after bringing in Cam Newton to play quarterback for one year. There were reports that Newton’s father had been shopping his son to major football programs, though Auburn was cleared of any wrongdoing in Newton’s recruitment.
For winning the national title, Chizik was rewarded with a $3.5 million annual contract. Last November, he was fired. Auburn paid him a buyout estimated at $7.5 million. If this report is true, Auburn could win up on probation.
An SEC football program breaking the rules. Now there’s a shock!