Rutgers Moving Forward: Can Good Come from Mike Rice Debacle?
It has been a tumultuous 24 hours for Rutgers University and its athletic department. Just a day after video of head coach Mike Rice assaulting his players verbally and physically went viral, Rice has lost his job, and athletic director Tim Pernetti has had to answer a lot of questions.
The question I ask, however, has not to do with the debacle, but rather the good that can come from it moving forward. For Pernetti, learning from what has occurred under his (questionably) watchful eye is crucial.
As a Rutgers alum, I have seen both high and low times on the banks of the Old Raritan. I was there when Rutgers football beat Louisville in 2006, I was there when the women's basketball team dealt with the Don Imus situation, I was there when Eric LeGrand was injured, I was there when Fred Hill went ballistic on baseball umpires and lost his job, I was there for the Tyler Clementi tragedy, and now I can say I was there to watch our "fiery" head men's basketball coach work his magic.
What have we learned from these headlines? We have learned that the public loves stories like these, and that the world of social media has changed privacy for everyone. Whether it be Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, anyone can have an opinion, and anyone can break a story.
What blows my mind is that Rice continued his actions knowing that he was on film. Furthermore, Rutgers basketball practices are open to the public, yet Rice's antics never wavered. It took a whistle-blower, it took an ESPN story and it took public scrutiny for Rice to finally get what he deserved.
Moving forward, Rutgers needs transparency with its fanbase and the national media. In a country that has a love/hate relationship for college sports and its policies, the fact that a three-game suspension and $50,000 fine seemed adequate is questionable at best.
Pernetti has been transparent and vocal about his triumphs as Rutgers' athletic director, but triumphs can easily be overshadowed when you are publicly embarrassed in a situation like this one. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, but for Pernetti, the firing of Rice should have been a no-brainer. Not only would he have saved himself from the recent scrutiny, but he would have made a bold move that most alums and loyal fans would have deeply respected.
As he looks at what is best for the university, he should start with an explanation. An explanation of his standard for Rutgers, the parameters of that standard, and how he plans to enforce and promote that standard in the future.
Having been a student at Rutgers, I can say that the mostly liberal campus is up in arms right now. At a place that saw a former undergraduate student commit suicide following bullying from his roommate, the fact that we had a bully as a public representative of the university is no small matter.
In hiring the next head coach, Pernetti has no choice but to hire a good guy first, and a good coach second. It almost goes without saying that if the next head coach so much as high-fives a player with too much force, both he and Pernetti will be gone.
Tim Pernetti has done wonders in his short tenure at the helm of Rutgers Athletics. Headlined by his recent move to the Big Ten conference, it seemed that Pernetti was a mover and a shaker. His reputation will not only be defined by his success, but also how he deals with attention like this in the country's biggest sports media market. To save his reputation (or what is left of it), truth must come first, even before wins and losses.
Can good come from this? Yes. Rutgers can hire a fantastic head coach, keep recruiting hard and make noise in the Big Ten. Rutgers can also be honest with their fanbase, alumni and faculty, promising that the right priorities are in order. That would be a start.
Either way, whether good or bad comes from this down the road, we have all learned that this is no longer a society that buys into "tough-love" in sports. We have also all learned, from this story and millions of others, that there is always an eye watching, an ear listening and a cell phone recording.
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