Ray Rice dons a questionable chapeau for Rutgers in 2007. (Getty Images)
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has always been proud of his time at Rutgers, so you can imagine that he's been feeling a bit low about the recent controversy surrounding abusive (and recently fired) basketball coach Mike Rice (no relation). But Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti, who's also been under the gun for his initial support of a coach who sprayed epithets and basketballs at his players, has the star running back's full support.
“Let me tell you about my last conversation with Tim Pernetti,” Rice told Steve Politi of the Star-Ledger on Thursday. “It was at Rutgers' pro day. You know what it was about? It was about Ray Rice getting his degree.
“That was what he wanted. He was telling me that to be a true pillar at Rutgers, I needed to graduate. He wanted me to register for some online courses so I can get that done. I mean, I just won a Super Bowl and that’s what he wanted!”
Rice's support is touching, but it may be too little, too late. Pernetti is justifiably taking a great deal of heat for his seemingly casual approach to an obvious pattern of abuse from one of his coaches. More than 50 Rutgers faculty members have signed a letter calling for his dismissal. In a week where a new NCAA scandal seems to pop out every hour, it's been a pretty ugly time for everyone involved with the school, past and present. Pernetti first saw the video of Mike Rice abusing his players last December, and chose to suspend him for three games and fine him $50,000. When the video broke on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" program earlier this week, the outrage was national and extreme.
"I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice," Pernetti said in a statement. "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. Moving forward, I will work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community."
Pernetti has a lot on his plate right now. New Jersey governor Chris Christie has expressed disgust at the way things have been handled, State Senate President Stephen Sweeney has called outright for his ouster, and Pernetti isn't the only one in danger of losing his job. University president Robert L. Barchi has been "encouraged" by many to resign.
So, it's pretty interesting that Ray Rice would be in Pernetti's corner, and he isn't the only one. Former Rutgers lineman Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed in an Oct. 2010 game, also told Politti his feelings about the AD.
“When you’re in a situation like I have been for the past 2 1/2 years, you truly see the character of people," LeGrand wrote on Twitter. "Tim Pernetti has shown me and Rutgers how great of a person he really is, and how much he really cares. He's a stand-up guy that only wants to better the university.”
Former New York Giants lineman Shaun O'Hara, who attended Rutgers from 1996 to 1999, put it more succinctly via his Twitter account.
— Shaun O'Hara (@ShaunOHara60) April 4, 2013
O'Hara then directed others who support Pernetti's continued employment to a Facebook page for that very cause.
Whether Pernetti has an impressive track record outside the Rice debacle -- and it appears he really does -- it may not matter in the end. As we seem to learn more and more every day, the NCAA is more about covering its own backside than actually doing its collective job, and schools generally seem more than happy to follow suit. Pernetti will hold his job only as long as the potential blowback is smaller than the benefit of his tenure.
“Could [Pernetti] have done more? I think so,” Ray Rice concluded. “But this is one decision. This is a man who has done so much for Rutgers. The right guy is gone! Now we need to start the healing process.”
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