Rutgers official: Barchi misspoke on ousted coach's payout

Rutgers' Peter J. McDonough (left) said Robert Barchi (right) inadvertently misspoke to lawmakers.
Rutgers' Peter J. McDonough (left) said Robert Barchi (right) inadvertently misspoke to lawmakers. (Bergen Record)
Posted: April 21, 2013

TRENTON - Rutgers University president Robert Barchi inadvertently misspoke Thursday afternoon when he told members of the Assembly Budget Committee that he would not sign off on a severance payment for ousted basketball coach Mike Rice, a university official said Friday.

Several hours later, the university issued a statement saying it would pay Rice $475,000 as part of a separation agreement. University officials now say Barchi meant that he would never agree to higher settlement figures that reportedly had been under discussion with Rice.

Barchi was questioned Thursday by Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D., Mercer), who sought confirmation that there would be no severance payment to Rice following his discharge.

"That is my position as a nonlawyer, but that is also why I have a new general counsel," Barchi testified. "Personally, having reviewed what I reviewed, I am going to be pretty hard to budge off of that."

The turnabout caused puzzlement among some members of the Legislature, who wondered whether Barchi had full command of the issues surrounding Rice's termination.

"I guess it speaks to what the president does or does not know is happening at his school," Watson Coleman said Friday. "I don't believe he intentionally tried to deceive me. I thought he was quite open and committed to what he was saying, so what I guess I don't understand is how he so firmly believed one thing while another thing was actually happening."

Peter J. McDonough, vice president for public affairs at Rutgers, said that Barchi, in his testimony, was trying to convey his view, expressed repeatedly on earlier occasions, that he would never go along with reported settlement figures of $1 million or more for Rice.

"The university believes that it was absolutely correct in its position" to settle, McDonough said. "After balancing all of the risks, we believe it was in the university's best interest to settle at a number that was less than half of the reported settlements."

In other developments Friday, the university announced that it had suspended the men's lacrosse coach with pay amid concerns that he had verbally abused players and that it had engaged the law firm of Cahill, Gordon & Reindel to investigate the university's handling of the Rice matter. The firm, which has offices in New York, Washington, and London, has a substantial corporate governance and investigations practice.

The university also named a search committee to replace athletic director Tim Pernetti, who resigned because of the basketball scandal.

Rutgers would offer no further details on the suspension of lacrosse coach Brian Brecht, university spokesman E.J. Miranda said. At a news conference April 5, Barchi said university administrators would review practice tapes of all Rutgers intercollegiate teams for any other incidents of abuse.

In a statement Friday about the lacrosse coach, Barchi said, "While I cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, let me reiterate that there is no place at Rutgers for words or actions that are inconsistent with the values of the university. . . . As I stressed earlier, we will be looking closely at all intercollegiate athletics at Rutgers going forward. If we find problems, we will address them."

Rice was fired April 3 after ESPN broadcast video footage of practice sessions in which he kicked and shoved players, hurled basketballs at them, and berated them with antigay slurs.

One obstacle facing Rutgers in refusing to settle the case would have been that Rice, when initially confronted with the allegations of abuse in December, agreed to participate in anger management classes and that no subsequent incidents had occurred. For that reason, people familiar with the matter said, Rutgers faced an uncertain outcome had it decided to defend against an employment lawsuit. Moreover, a lawsuit surely would have caused the embarrassing videos of Rice abusing players to resurface, evidently another factor in the settlement.


Contact Chris Mondics at 609-989-9016 or cmondics@phillynews.com

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