At Rutgers, Regrets and Resignation

Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi said he regretted not asking to see the video of coach Mike Rice's outbursts and antigay slurs when he was first made aware of its existence.
Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi said he regretted not asking to see the video of coach Mike Rice's outbursts and antigay slurs when he was first made aware of its existence. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 06, 2013

Rutgers University moved to put the immediate fallout of its basketball scandal behind it Friday, issuing a broad apology, and announcing the resignation of athletic director Tim Pernetti.

Pernetti's resignation follows the firing Wednesday of head men's basketball coach Mike Rice and resignation of assistant coach Jimmy Martelli. The university also announced Friday the resignation of John B. Wolf, its interim senior vice president and general counsel, who had been a part of the investigation into Rice's behavior in the fall.

But the university appears to have turned a page for now, putting to rest speculation over president Robert L. Barchi's fate that had mounted over the week. Rutgers board of governors chairman Ralph Izzo joined Barchi at a news conference Friday and said the president had the board's support.

"I think he is the right person to run this place for many years to come," Izzo said.

In a statement, Gov. Christie also lent support, praising Barchi's "decisive leadership."

Speaking publicly about the matter for the first time, Barchi said he and Pernetti "mutually agreed" that Pernetti should resign. He also apologized broadly "to the entire Rutgers community," specifically expressing remorse to student athletes and the LGBT community.

Video excerpts of basketball practices show Rice manhandling players and hurling basketballs, profanities and gay slurs.

A brief statement from the university released Wednesday provided few details, except to say that Barchi had not seen the video personally until Tuesday and that he and Pernetti agreed on Rice's initial penalty based on the findings and recommendations of an external investigation.

On Friday, he provided more details.

"I regret that I did not ask to see the video when Tim [Pernetti] first told me of its existence, because I am certain this situation would have had a different outcome had I done so," Barchi said. He later added that he first watched the video around 10 p.m. Tuesday.

"I was deeply disturbed by the behavior the video revealed, which was much more abusive and pervasive than I had understood it to be," Barchi said. "As Tim acknowledged Wednesday, his decision to rehabilitate rather than to fire Coach Rice was wrong."

Calls for Rice's firing had crescendoed quickly after ESPN released a video Tuesday showing the coach shoving players and throwing basketballs at or toward them. His use of antigay slurs drew particular criticism, as the campus is especially sensitive because of the 2010 suicide of freshman Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge days after his roommate used a webcam to spy on him kissing another man.

When Barchi saw the basketball video Tuesday night, he said it "took me five minutes" to decide that Rice needed to be fired. That decision was executed Wednesday morning, and later that day, Martelli resigned.

Martelli, son of St. Joseph's University basketball coach Phil Martelli, is seen on the video in at least one incident pushing a player and using an antigay slur.

After Rice was fired, the chorus of criticism continued to grow, with some calling for hearings or investigations, and others for Barchi or Pernetti to lose their jobs. Several dozen of Rutgers' 13,000 full- and part-time faculty signed a letter calling for Pernetti to be fired; a smaller number signed a separate letter demanding Barchi's resignation.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), who said Thursday that Pernetti must resign or be fired, released a statement Friday after the resignation.

"Rutgers simply could not have moved on if he had remained there," he said.

Sweeney acknowledged that Pernetti had impressive achievements in his tenure, including getting Rutgers into the powerhouse Big Ten athletic conference.

"His getting Rutgers into the Big Ten is a noteworthy achievement that we can be proud of," Sweeney said. "But his handling of this entire incident made this action necessary."

The other top-ranking state legislator also released a statement renewing her call for legislative hearings.

"Questions still remain," said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex). "President Barchi owes New Jersey an explanation for his decision-making, and the university needs to become more transparent, most notably by publicly releasing the 50-page report submitted by its outside investigator."

The school released that report to the media Friday.

In it, Rice's behavior is described as part of a strategic plan to toughen players up for the "intense, physically demanding" brand of basketball played in the Big East conference.

"He often yelled at players and used profanity. He threw or kicked the basketball or broke his clipboard when individual players or the team as a whole repeated mistakes," the report says.

"Based on the credible information provided to us, we find that many of the actions of Coach Rice, while sometimes unorthodox, politically incorrect or very aggressive, were within the bounds of proper conduct and training methods in the context of preparing for the extraordinary physical and mental challenges that players would regularly face during NCAA Division I basketball games," the report says.

Still, the investigation found, some actions seemed well out of bounds, including the use of antigay slurs and physical contact that sometimes appeared to stem from Rice's anger.

"In sum, we believe there is sufficient evidence to find that certain actions of Coach Rice did 'cross the line' of permissible conduct and that such actions constituted harassment or intimidation within Rutgers' policy," the report says.

Based on those findings, Pernetti and Barchi have said, on Dec. 13, Rice was suspended for three games, issued fines, and had his pay docked a total of $75,000. He was also ordered to undergo anger-management counseling.

In his resignation letter, Pernetti wrote to Barchi that his first thought was to fire Rice, which he wishes he could go back and act upon.

"As you know, my first instincts when I saw the videotape of Coach Rice's behavior was to fire him immediately," he wrote. "However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals, and outside counsel."

It was unclear Friday whether Pernetti had made clear his desire to fire Rice; the report makes no mention of Pernetti's wanting Rice fired, and Barchi said at the news conference he did not recall any statements to that effect at the time.

Barchi also clarified details of Rice's firing Friday, stating emphatically, "I didn't fire him for cause . . . I just fired him."

Under Rice's contract, that means he is owed just over $1 million for the next two years at 75 percent of his contract amount, plus $100,000 for completing the 2012-13 season as coach.

Under the terms of Pernetti's settlement agreement, he will reportedly walk away with about $1.2 million.


Rutgers Developments

Rutgers University's athletics director and another top administrator resigned Friday in the scandal over basketball coach Mike Rice's abusive treatment of players, including the spewing of gay slurs. The administration had chosen to discipline the coach in December and try to "rehabilitate" him. But he was fired this week after video of his conduct was aired. Here's an at-a-glance look at the case:

The Video

Edited clips of practices from 2010 through last year were made public by Eric Murdock, a former basketball program employee who on Friday filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the university. He shared the video with university officials in November, and ESPN later obtained a copy.

The University's Initial Response

In December, Rice was suspended for three games and ordered to seek anger-management counseling, but officials decided not to fire him. University President Robert L. Barchi signed off on the decision.

Rutgers' Response This Week

After Barchi said he watched the video for the first time, Rice was fired Wednesday. Rice later apologized: "Right now there's no explanation for what's on those films," he said. "I was wrong." Assistant coach Jimmy Martelli resigned Wednesday, saying he was "sickened that as an assistant coach I contributed in any way to an unacceptable culture."

Athletics director Tim Pernetti resigned Friday. He said his first instinct had been to fire Rice but that after an administration review of an investigative report "the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal." John Wolf, interim senior vice president and general counsel, believed to have recommended against Rice's firing, also resigned.

Coach to Still Collect Paycheck

The university president said the coach was not fired for cause. So under his contract, he is owed just over $1 million for the next two years, or 75 percent of his contract amount, plus the $100,000 he earned for completing the 2012-13 season as coach.

What the President Said

Barchi said his early decision was based on a summary of what the university's investigation found. Watching the video for the first time, he said, he found the behavior "more abusive and pervasive than I had understood it to be."

"This was a failure of process," he said. "I regret that I did not ask to see this video when Tim first told me of its existence. I want to apologize to the entire Rutgers community for the negative impact that this situation has had on Rutgers.

"I also apologize to the LGBT community and all of us who share their values for the homophobic slurs shown on that video."

Is the President's Job Safe?

Apparently so, given who vouched for him Friday.

"I think he is the right person to run this place for many years to come," said Ralph Izzo, chairman of Rutgers board of governors.

Gov. Christie also gave a strong statement of support. "I commend President Barchi for his decisive leadership in coming to an agreement with Mr. Pernetti to have the Athletic Department of Rutgers University come under new leadership," Christie said.

What Rutgers' Investigative Report Found

The university released a redacted version of its 52-page report on its investigation last year into complaints about Rice's conduct.

It concluded that although Rice sometimes behaved inappropriately, many video clips were taken out of context and his actions did not create a hostile work environment or constitute harassment or bullying.

The report also mentioned that Rice used gay slurs but devoted little attention to the issue, other than to say such language "is not acceptable for any coach at any time in a university setting." - AP


Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @elaijuh.

Inquirer staff writers Joelle Farrell and Matt Katz contributed to this article, which also contains information from the Associated Press.

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