If you can coach a men’s basketball team to a better than .500 record while refraining from abusing your players, Rutgers may have a number of jobs for you. On Wednesday, Mike Rice lost his head coaching job there, after videos of his transgressions surfaced, which clearly show him using slurs, kicking and shoving players, and throwing basketballs at them. The following day, assistant coach Jimmy Martelli – who can be seen on the video doing the same things – resigned, and on Friday, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti was shown the door.
BL: You’ve written that Rutgers has demonstrated “a lack of common sense that has now been exposed to the world.” Why would Pernetti have tolerated the various abuses and abuses of Rice and Martelli for so long?
AS: It’s kind of baffling to me, because Tim Pernetti came from a job in television, so understands – or, at least, should understand – the visceral power of video. Within 10 seconds of seeing the video, he should have realized, “I cannot keep Mike Rice as the coach. If this ever gets out, we’re all going to get killed.”
BL: How long ago did he first see the video?
AS: He saw it in November. He was asked on ESPN, “Did you see all the bad parts?” And he said, “Yes, I saw all of it.” So there’s no real excuse – he knew this was coming. And they decided that a three-game suspension and a $50,000 fine and anger management classes would be enough. It is almost as if they made the decision thinking that the video would never get out.
But that’s even stupider, because the video was in the possession of a man named Eric Murdock, who had worked at the Rutgers basketball program. He had been fired – well, not fired, according to them. His contract was not renewed. So you have this disgruntled ex-employee who has this damning evidence, and so not only will they not pay Murdoch, they just slap Rice on the wrist. The smart move would have been to settle with Murdoch, make sure you had a fat non-disparagement clause that would keep him from getting that video out there, and then fire Rice anyway.
BL: Because of actually what he’d done, video or no video, was a fireable offense.
AS: Right, exactly. I mean, if a professor routinely threw textbooks at students in class who are on an academic scholarship, would he keep his job?
BL: It’s interesting to me that in the same article, you seem to be suggesting that some level of cursing or insulting players is acceptable. Where should an athletic director or a university president, for that matter, draw the line?
AS: You draw the line when it’s just flat-out insulting someone and has nothing to do with their performance at practice or their performance on the field. You draw the line, especially, when they put their hands on someone. Coaches need to show guys how to do stuff, but kicking them, punching them, shoving them – the line’s pretty easy to figure out there.
BL: Some people have asked me why the players at Rutgers didn’t do something about the way they were being treated by Mike Rice, but it’s not so easy for players to take that step, is it?
AS: Oh, definitely not, because Mike Rice controlled their academic future as well. If you’re at Rutgers and you play basketball, and you want to transfer, and you want to be on scholarship at the next school you go to – for most of these guys, they need a scholarship to afford college – you need permission from Mike Rice to transfer. He has to release you from your scholarship. So if you went to the administration to tattle on Mike Rice and he found out, he’s not going to release you from your scholarship. If you turned around and punched him in the jaw after he hits you with a basketball, he’s not going to release you from your scholarship. It’s a stupid NCAA rule that, for whatever reason, athletic directors never want to do anything about because they want these coaches to have as much control as possible over these 20-year-olds.
BL: Going forward, are other coaches at Rutgers likely to have problems?
AS: I don’t know that other coaches at Rutgers are likely to have problems; I think it’s a nationwide thing. Every practice in a major-revenue sport at a major college is videotaped. So hopefully, coaches will now realize, “Everything I’m doing’s on video, and if I’m being abusive to these kids, somebody’s going to find out, and somebody’s going to leak that video, and I’m going to be gone.” The fear of losing your job and being publicly humiliated is a pretty powerful motivating factor.