10 Questions Rutgers Officials Need To Answer Right Now
By now, you may have already seen the hidden video of Rutgers head men’s basketball coach Mike Rice physically assaulting his players. The video quickly went viral after airing on ESPN yesterday.
After watching this video, there’s no doubt in my mind that Rice should be fired. Immediately. (Editor’s note: Rice was fired shortly after this story posted.) He probably should have been fired when Rutgers officials first learned of the video last November. But Rice may be somewhat irrelevant at this point, assuming he will be fired in the next few days.
What’s much more relevant is the failure of the officials at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, who knew they had a problem on their hands and failed to take appropriate action. (They suspended Rice for three games, fined him $50,000, and ordered him to take anger management classes. That’s more than nothing, but not commensurate with the seriousness of his infractions.)
Below, you’ll find ten questions I’d pose to the president and athletic director of Rutgers right now. If I was their media trainer, I’d insist that they develop credible answers to all 10 of these questions before doing any interviews.
- What did you know, and when did you know it?
- In December, you decided to suspend Mr. Rice for three games. Why didn’t you feel that his firing was warranted at that time?
- If calling players “fucking faggots,” physically assaulting them, and throwing basketballs at their heads isn’t a fireable offense, what is?
- A player could have been seriously injured or killed as a result of having a basketball thrown at his head. Again, why didn’t you view that as a fireable offense?
- You’re now reconsidering your decision to retain Mr. Rice. If you feel you took the appropriate action by suspending him, why are you suddenly changing your mind? It looks like you’re just bowing to pressure because ESPN released a story you had hoped remained hidden.
- After Penn State’s scandal, it became clear that athletic departments could no longer treat out-of-control coaches too leniently. Weren’t you nervous that your decision to keep Rice employed could bring all of you down?
- How would you have treated, say, a humanities professor or a provost who hurled a basketball at a student’s head at high speed?
- What would you say to the parents of these athletes who trusted Rutgers coaches to treat their children with respect?
- Your University Code of Student Conduct says: “All members of the Rutgers University community are expected to behave in an ethical and moral fashion, respecting the human dignity of all members of the community and resisting behavior that may cause danger or harm to others through violence, theft, or bigotry.” How would you respond to those who say you appear to have two sets of rules: one for high-profile university leaders, and the other for students and more lowly staff?
- Why should students, faculty, and the community trust you to retain your positions?
What questions would you ask? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
UPDATE: April 3, 2013, 10:10 a.m.: Rutgers University just announced that it terminated Rice’s contract. The questions posed above remain just as relevant now as they were before his firing, since it took the University months — and public pressure — to take that action.
UPDATE 2: April 3, 2013: 11:23 a.m.: Rutgers’ Athletic Director, Tim Pernetti, issued a reasonable statement this morning, in which he took responsibility for the delayed firing. His statement, and my response, can be found on PR Daily here.
Photo credit: Getty Images
I think it’s important to consider that back in November, Rutgers was quietly negotiating a move to the Big Ten Conference — a league already burdened with sanctions against three member schools, including Penn State. It’s quite possible that Rutgers withheld the information to prevent complications in a conference move.
This is a terrible experience for these young players. Shameful. However, my assessment is that it this is not similar to the Penn State situation. This is a current coach interacting with current NCAA student-athletes with video evidence to back up claims. Perhaps also worth considering…this is happening right now.
Let’s ask the NCAA some similar questions regarding the Athletic Department responsibility.
I don’t think Rutgers withheld anything to smooth their move to the Big 10. If Rice had an employment behavioral contract, it cannot be made public without a waive of rights by Rice. If he had such a contract, it would not be surprising. I’ve worked in two D-I athletic departments and coaching performance contracts are par for the course. It could be attached to academic team performance, grad rates,coaching behavior, whatever. It’s a perfectly legal contract and protected information. Without them, schools don’t have a basis for firing coaches that don’t meet expectations unless they have a no-cause firing rider. According to the Big 10 commissioner when both Rutgers and Maryland moved in, the moves had been in the negotiating stages for a while before it was announced.
Rutgers needs to worry about recruiting at this point. They need some quick reputation recovery PR. They’re already at a disadvantage recruiting in the Big 10. Unless there are some changes (besides just firing the coach), parents are going to think twice before letting their kids go there to play. There has to be a perception that their kids are being protected by the administration from this kind of thing happening again.
Great points, and it leads to a natural 11th question:
“Will you make it easy for members of the men’s basketball team to transfer to a different school if they’d like to do so?”
If it had been me getting hit with the ball I hope that I would have had enough courage to fire the ball back to the idiot coach.