Rice's abuse casts shadow over all of Rutgers athletics
Imagine you are the parent of a very good high school basketball player. Imagine your son has scholarship offers from several schools -- good mid-majors and mediocre power-conference programs. Imagine one of those schools is Rutgers.
Now imagine someone shows you this:
Your son isn't going anywhere near Rutgers, is he?
That's what makes it so astounding that Mike Rice still has a job. Last year, Rutgers officials, including athletic director Tim Pernetti, reviewed video of Rice whipping basketballs at players' heads and crotches at point-blank range during practices. They saw Rice using slurs to refer to players. They saw Rice pushing and kicking players. Their assessment? What Rice did was bad, but not that bad. They considered a three-game suspension and a $50,000 fine to be acceptable discipline.
"It's a very concerning pattern of behavior," Pernetti told ESPN. "Everything that was done is not acceptable to the Rutgers standard, and that's why we suspended him for three games with the fine."
If that's Pernetti's honest opinion, then the Rutgers standard is absurdly low.
The leaders at Rutgers must not have considered what would happen to the program if the video ever leaked. When I open my consultancy, one of the first things I'll tell my clients is to make decisions based on the assumption that the whole truth will eventually emerge. Pernetti and those who advised clearly never thought this video would be released to the public. Otherwise, they would have made a much smarter decision. Before, they had a jerk of a basketball coach whom they could easily fire for cause. The evidence is on video, for goodness sakes. They wouldn't have owed Rice a penny. Had he threatened to sue, they could respond by threatening to release the tape -- which would have (and now will) torpedo his coaching career.
Now, Rutgers is saddled with a jerk of a basketball coach and its leadership group's lack of common sense has been exposed to the world. How did they not realize this could crush their basketball program? Rice isn't even that good of a coach. Indiana went to the wall for Bobby Knight for years, but Bobby Knight won games. Rice doesn't even do that. He is 44-51 in three seasons at Rutgers. Thanks to this video, Rutgers, which is about to move to the Big Ten, will never be able to recruit a Big Ten-level basketball player as long as Rice is employed. One look will immediately turn off recruits and their parents. Rutgers will sign players for whom Rutgers is the best offer. What does that mean? It means Rutgers will get crushed in the Big Ten. It means Pernetti will have no choice but to fire Rice, be it today, tomorrow or in two years. One way or another, Rice will get fired over this. The rub is that Pernetti could have done that earlier, and he would have looked like a champion for the welfare of his athletes. Now, he looks like a wishy-washy administrator who didn't have the sense to make the smart and/or right choice the first time around.
I'm not one of those people who gets on his high horse about coaches who curse or insult players. I had plenty of those in high school and college. I credit several of them with teaching me valuable lessons that helped make me a successful adult. Cussing at a player occasionally or running him until he pukes is not abuse. What Rice did obliterated the line between challenging and abusing.
Braxston Cave, the outgoing center on Notre Dame's football team, put it best in a tweet. "I RESPECT coaches," Cave wrote. "BUT With that said if a grown man put his hands on me like the coach from Rutgers I would rip his heart out of his chest."
Unfortunately, few players would be willing to dish out that kind of justice because of the power these coaches hold over their careers. Rice is lucky the NCAA system is so rigged in favor of the schools and coaches. If a player wanted to transfer, Rice held the power over the release that would allow that player to receive a scholarship at another school. Otherwise, one of the players he plunked in the skull with a basketball might have turned around and broken his jaw.
The problems for Rutgers won't end with a crippled basketball program. Every coach at the school will have to deal with this video as they try to recruit players for their programs. If I'm in New Jersey recruiting football players, I'm showing the recruits and their parents that ESPN video and saying that based on his choice to keep Rice, the Rutgers AD condones this sort of activity. Do you want your son or daughter playing for an athletic department where the man in charge thinks that's OK? Scarlet Knights football coach Kyle Flood has done nothing wrong, but he'll get tasked with helping clean up Rice's mess. For that, he can thank Pernetti.
The moment Pernetti saw the video, Rice's firing should have been a slam dunk. Because he should have known what everyone else would think when they saw it.