Published: April 5, 2013

By Jim Lichtman
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Tracee Hamilton gets it.

The Washington Post columnist jumped ahead of me when she heard about the absurdly ethical lapses in actions and reasoning behind two recent college basketball stories.

It was only eleven days ago when I wrote, “college and university presidents need to take a hard look in the mirror and consider just what’s important: winning-at-any-cost, or role-modeling a reputation of honor.”

I made that observation after writing about former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight whose new book, The Power of Negative Thinking, has been making the rounds on the media circuit. Who knew that Rutgers coach Mike Rice kept a bedside copy for nighttime inspiration – boning up on the finer points of player “motivation” from the Dark Knight himself.

Not long after ESPN aired a series of video clips of Rice’s abusive behavior at practices between 2010 and 2012, Rice was fired. After reviewing the tape four months ago, Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti suspended Rice for three games and fined him $50,000.

However, that was before ESPN broadcast the tape. Now, deep in the 3rd quarter of this ‘game,’ Pernetti released a statement clarifying his reasoning for not firing Rice last year: “I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice. Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate, but I was wrong.”

This sounds eerily similar to a statement made by then Indiana University President Myles Brand justifying not firing Bobby Knight after similar abusive issues came to light: “I had never seen him before contrite and apologetic,” Brand said at the time. “He has given me his word that he will take extraordinary steps to change his behavior. I think the ethical approach is to give him one last chance.”

Given Mr. Knight’s ‘extraordinary’ history,” I wrote then, “do we really believe this will happen?” Four months later, Knight was fired after another report of abusive behavior.

Did Pernetti and University President Dr. Robert Barchi ever hear of a basketball coach named Bobby Knight? Perhaps they were denied access to newspapers, magazines and TV when they were younger. Not likely. Prior to his Rutgers position, Pernetti was “a television executive,” The New York Times writes (Apr. 4), “who had extensive experience presenting college games…”

Moving into the 4th quarter, this ‘game’ may have a few more surprises.

“…with outrage growing,” The Times writes, “…Mr. Pernetti and the university’s president, Robert L. Barchi, find themselves under scrutiny for their handling of the case. Their jobs may be in jeopardy…”

One reason offered by The Times as to why the Rice incident had been covered-up was the fact that Rutgers was in negotiation to join the Big Ten Conference (which is little known code for “Big Money,” Shhh, don’t tell anybody!).

Once again, we have a college athletic program teaching students about the importance of winning no matter the cost. “Get hit with a fine or two, no problem. That’s just the cost of doing business.”

Rutgers President Barchi “…released a statement Wednesday [saying]… that he had relied on Mr. Pernetti’s descriptions of the videos and on ‘the advice of internal and external counsel,’ but that he had not personally reviewed the videotape until Tuesday.

“ ‘I have now reached the conclusion that Coach Rice cannot continue to serve effectively in a position that demands the highest levels of leadership, responsibility and public accountability,’ he said.”

Barchi never personally reviewed a tape of alleged abusive behavior by a faculty member?

Now Barchi is facing his own campus crisis. “At least 10 faculty members, including the dean of the Graduate School at Rutgers in Newark, signed a letter calling for Dr. Barchi… to resign for his ‘inexcusable handling of Coach Mike Rice’s homophobic and misogynist abuse of our students.’

“The faculty members accused Dr. Barchi of covering up the coach’s behavior by neglecting to tell them and the student body about the extent of it in the fall. ‘In the meantime, in December, President Barchi reviewed Coach Rice’s $700,000 contract — and renewed it,’ the letter said.”

Barchi approved a $700K contract after learning of the incident?

This brings me back to Post writer Tracee Hamilton whose national column (Apr. 4) should serve as a wake-up call to all college and university leadership.

“It’s impossible to be surprised by the dreadful hubris and hypocrisy of college sports,” Hamilton writes, “which seem a daily occurrence… Today’s installment deals with Louisville and Rutgers.”

Hamilton points to yet another example of me-first college sports.

“Adidas has selflessly printed up T-shirts that say “Ri5e to the occasion” — referring to [Louisville] Cardinals guard Kevin Ware, who wore No. 5 — and will sell them for a mere $24.99. Louisville has graciously waived any profit from the shirts, and the money will go instead to Ware.

“No, wait, it won’t,” Hamilton adds. “As with all student-athletes, Ware gets squadoosh, even for a T-shirt that is supposedly printed in his honor. Adidas has graciously agreed to donate a portion of its profits to the school’s scholarship fund. So a T-shirt and a university will profit from the horrific injury Ware suffered in Louisville’s Elite Eight game against Duke on Sunday.

“The NCAA,” Hamilton points out, “does not require schools to pick up the tab for medical bills incurred while playing for said schools, from pulled hamstrings to the gruesome injury suffered by Ware. And because Ware is not considered an employee of the university, he is not eligible for worker’s compensation. (Yes, he and other athletes receive scholarships, but that can’t continue to be the easy retort when the topic of stipends and other assistance is raised.)

However, “[Louisville] is doing the right thing: It will pay Ware’s costs. But the fact remains that Ware and other athletes should be paid a stipend. And the NCAA should require all schools to take care of all scholarship athletes, regardless of injury. Because catastrophic injuries won’t always happen in front of the cameras of major networks on a Sunday afternoon when viewership — and sympathy, and attention — were high.”

Looks like this ‘game’ just may be headed into overtime.

UPDATE: Early this morning, The Associated Press reported that Rutgers University will hold a press conference later this afternoon where officials are expected to announce that Tim Pernetti will be out as Athletic Director.


  1. Author

    You hit the nail on the head with Knight, another of the guys on My List. I wasn’t writing then so never covered him, but if he had abused me at a news conference the way he abused other reporters, I would have walked out. Bullying is bullying.

    And that’s the part of the Rice thing that I didn’t even touch on (yet): We have a tremendous bullying problem in this country. When kids are being driven to suicide, that’s not a stretch to say. And while it’s not always the case, it’s often the cool, popular kids – some of them athletes – who are involved in the bullying end, seldom the receiving end. So we’ve got a coach teaching these kids that it’s okay to throw balls at someone, shove them, call them names … it really makes me sick.I haven’t felt this awful about a story since Sandusky. Several people wrote to say I shouldn’t have mentioned Sandusky in the column. Well, is that the new bar now? Child sexual abuse is the line we won’t cross? I just think we can move the line back even more. Yeesh.

  2. Author

    Having watched the Rutgers president and his excuses for not acting when the Athletic Director said, “I think we should fire the coach,”and not bothering to look at the videos of the coach’s flagrant abuse of players…he with a won 16 and lost 38 record….you have an ethics scandal worthy of you attention and writing.

    Nobody ever learns.

    The AD says last November he told the president “we should fire the coach”, the president stayed all but the $50,000 fine and 3 day suspension and “anger management” courses (so sensitively liberal), and put it with the Board and University lawyers. Finally, when the video broke this week, he bothered to look at it.

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