On April 2, a video surfaced of Mike Rice Jr., formerly the head coach of the Rutgers University men’s basketball team, verbally and physically abusing his players. In the footage, Coach Rice is shown pushing, hurling basketballs and shouting homophobic slurs at players. Within 24 hours of the footage appearing on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” Rice was fired by Rutgers University.
This incident of abusive coaching was only the beginning of a major scandal for the entire Rutgers athletic program. Several months prior to Rice’s firing, Assistant Coach Eric Murdock reported Rice’s behavior to Athletic Director Tim Pernetti. Four issues surrounding Murdock and Pernetti have placed the entire Rutgers athletic program in the national spotlight.
First, Pernetti postponed the meeting with Murdock multiple times. One such postponement occurred on November 20, 2012. After calling off the meeting with Murdock, Pernetti instead took that day to announce that Rutgers University had joined the Big Ten Conference. This was a big step forward for a growing sports program. It happened to arrive at the same time as reports of Coach Rice’s malicious behavior towards athletes.
Second, Pernetti chose to reprimand Coach Rice in several ways without actually firing him. Rice was assigned to anger-management classes, given a three game suspension without pay and a $50,000 fine. Pernetti classified the suspension as “a complete removal from the program,” but did not revisit any of these sanctions or take any further action until the footage was leaked.
Third, Murdock was fired shortly after Coach Rice’s suspension. Murdock has since pursued a wrongful termination lawsuit against Rutgers University. Since being let go and filing this lawsuit, Murdock leaked the film on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” bringing the issue to national prominence. A few months later, the FBI opened an investigation on Eric Murdock after a report emerged that one of Murdock’s lawyers sent a letter to Rutgers administrators demanding $950,000. Murdock has maintained that he was merely acting as a whistle-blower in the scenario and his lawyers have flatly rejected allegations of extortion.
Lastly, Pernetti resigned from his position as director of intercollegiate athletics at Rutgers University. Pernetti’s resignation came only two days after Mike Rice, Jr. was officially fired. As part of his resignation, Pernetti was given a severance package worth more than $1.25 million.
While the events described above are sure to be examined and scrutinized further in the coming days and weeks, two things are certain. Mike Rice, Jr. was never exemplary as a head coach at Rutgers—his overall win-loss record was 44-51—and Tim Pernetti could have saved the University from the massive scandal they face today if he had fired Rice back in November.