Rutgers University hasn’t dodged its final pegging from the fallout of the Mike Rice fiasco.
The very honcho who enabled Rice to continue his tyrannical reign still has to take his turn walking the plank.
Step in front of the line of fire, Tim Pernetti. It was you who first treated intel of bellicose behavior by the head men’s basketball coach as if it was a mere secondary recruiting violation. Your judgment, your initial penalty, was a slap on the wrist — a three-game suspension without pay plus a fine that neither rectified the culture nor redressed the abused kids. Your vision of Rutgers basketball foremost promotes a program conducive to winning and stability, where the comfort and development of the student-athlete is incidental.
Mr. Pernetti’s leadership runs against the core values championed by the university writing his checks. The Rutgers athletics mission statement, transcribed below, calls for many of the principles Rice’s hostile antics contravened and Pernetti’s lenient administration betrayed.
The mission of the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics is to reflect, reinforce, and enhance the educational mission of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey by creating an environment of excellence where student-athletes will develop the life skills, academic skills, and athletic skills that will enable them to earn degrees, become leaders, and win championships. In all areas of its operation, the Division’s student-athletes, coaches, staff and programs shall embody the core values of accountability, respect, integrity, academic achievement, community service, fairness, diversity, and sportsmanship.
Simulating the movie Dodgeball advances that mission how?
Irrespective of whether the firing itself was the right move (it was), Mike Rice lost his job for all the wrong reasons. Pernetti gave Rice the axe in the interest of program and personal damage control. His aim: to quell public backlash and restore reputability to an athletics department sliding down the credibility pole. Four months too late.
Don’t be fooled by Pernetti’s veneer of regret. He only regrets the video leaking to the public. His hands tied, Pernetti now must feign self-accountability to save face.
Judging by his actions before the media firestorm forced his hand, Pernetti doesn’t give a damn about the integrity of the program or well-being of RU basketball players. If he did, the fourth-year AD would have placed Rice on unpaid administrative leave in December, when footage of Rice’s abuse was first brought to his attention. Pernetti cares only about job security and program preservation.
Think. Rice was Pernetti’s special hire, the coach to whom Pernetti staked his reputation just one year into his fledgling career. Pernetti risked career suicide by terminating his first big coaching signing so early in the process. Future willing, he had to ride out Rice’s turbulent situation to validate his selection in the first place. As soon as the video bombshells dropped, effectively foiling those plans, Pernetti had to improvise on the fly. No longer was Rice a viable option to direct Rutgers hoops. He’d never be able to recruit again.
Some first-time offenses — especially those like Rice’s which snowballed into repeat occurrences — don’t deserve a second chance. Coach Rice exploited each facet of his authority status, extracted every ounce of leverage he could while hazing his way through a contemptible three-year coaching stint. He dared his players to strike back, understanding full well they couldn’t with what was at stake. The players had scholarships and roster spots to lose. In effect, Rice was hurling his shots from higher ground. This kind of behavior is a weak man’s imitation of strength.
Pernetti’s decision to “rehabilitate” a coach smacks of the same jumbled priorities evident at Penn State on a much larger scale. His prevailing interest should be in protecting student-athletes, not in assisting a troubled head coach through a fatal personality flaw. The RAC is not Rice’s rehabilitation center. Rutgers basketball players are not human stress balls.
If a college coach needs to resort to bullying to control his kids, he is in the wrong line of business. If an athletics director values job security and coach counseling over the prosperity of the student-athletes he oversees, he is too.