Rice controversy brings shame to University
For almost a week, College Avenue was littered with news vans.
On April 3, 2013, University President Robert L. Barchi fired men’s basketball head coach Mike Rice after a video, played on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” depicted Rice throwing basketball’s at players while shouting gay slurs.
The video attracted national and international coverage, leading to N.J. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3, asking for Athletic Director Tim Pernetti’s removal, Tim Pernetti’s resignation, and a Saturday Night Live skit.
The question pressed at the news conference, held April 5, was the delay on the University’s part on firing Rice.
“Above all, today’s actions beg the question: What took so long? If there was evidence of this abuse in November, it is absolutely shocking that it took until April for this incident to come to light and for the head coach to be terminated,” said Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Sandra Bolden Cunningham, D-NJ, in a statement.
The controversy also saw the resignation of two other University officials, excluding Pernetti: John Wolf, general counsel at the University and assistant men’s basketball coach Jimmy Martelli.
But Eric Murdock, former director of players of the men’s basketball team, also had a hand in Rice’s resignation, and filed a whistleblower lawsuit with the University April 5.
“Efforts to get Rutgers to address its problems were ignored for months,” Murdock said at a separate press conference April 5. “Instead, I was removed from my position. That is wrong, and that is why I filed a lawsuit.”
After heated conversations and angry text messages, a rift grew between Rice and Murdock, forcing Murdock to stop coming to work as he thought Rice fired him.
But Pernetti told Murdock only the athletic director could fire him and that he was not fired. But Murdock still did not attend a scheduled meeting July 2, 2012 with Rice or Pernetti. Two days earlier, Murdock’s contract ended.
Murdock’s attorney then requested DVDs of basketball practices and eventually compiled a video showing Rice, sometimes in out-of-context scenarios, abusing his players physically and verbally.
After meetings with both parties, the University suspended Rice and hired an independent investigator to look into the case. But Murdock’s attorney sent a letter to the University Dec. 6, 2012, demanding $950,000. But the University declined to pay the amount.
The controversy also brought attention to Barchi, who was questioned as to why he was not thoroughly involved in the events surrounding Rice’s suspension.
But Barchi said he never saw the video, and took Pernetti’s advice to suspending Rice instead of terminating his contract.
“If there was anything in my time here I would like to have done over again, it would be to have seen that video,” Barchi said at a strategic planning town hall at Rutgers-Newark April 9, after a surge of protestors demanded he resign and ignored conversations about the University’s strategic plan.
The Board of Governors also received scrutiny for not taking action immediately.
“Any trustee or member of the Board of Governors who witnessed the tape at any point before it was publicly aired, and took no action, should be removed or resign immediately,” Sweeney said. “The standard for them, or anyone in a position of authority at Rutgers, should be no different than for Mike Rice or Tim Pernetti.”
But Gerald Harvey, vice chairman of the Board of Governors, said the University would engage independent review to remedy the problems that came after the controversy.
“We are absolutely determined to ensure the well-being of all students here at Rutgers University,” he said. “[The governors] seek good governance. … We want to follow best practices, and where we have failed to address best practices, understand what those failures are and what we can do to improve.”
Barchi instated Carl Kirshner as interim athletic director, and kicked off the search committee for a new Director of Intercollegiate Athletics April 8, with former University student athlete Kate Sweeney and Executive Vice President Richard L. Edwards spearheading the search.
And in a quick turn of events, the University hired assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers Eddie Jordan as the men’s basketball coach April 18. The Star-Ledger reported the University and Jordan agreed on a five-year deal worth roughly $6.25 million and made him the 18th head coach in the team’s history.