On the day last December when he suspended basketball coach Mike Rice for three games, athletic director Tim Pernetti said, "Accountability is a vital element of the Rutgers athletics family and it is imperative our head coaches act and lead in a responsible manner."
If accountability is still vital in the Rutgers athletic family Tuesday, after ESPN's "Outside The Lines" figuratively fired basketballs at Pernetti's credibility, then school president Robert Barchi will be busy passing out pink slips. Rice needs to go, and Pernetti should be right behind him.
The video is shocking and irredeemable. Rice is shown grabbing, shoving and kicking players. He is shown throwing basketballs at them. He directs a multitude of vulgar variations of "you're a sissy" at them.
That's not coaching. That's bullying.
And for Pernetti to think that three-game December suspension – for vaguely defined reasons at the time – was enough isn't leading. That's enabling.
As coaches are fond of saying, the film don't lie. And the film showed a coach going far beyond the acceptable boundaries of acceptable interaction with his players.
As of Tuesday afternoon, when Pernetti was interviewed live by Jeremy Schaap, the AD was standing behind his coach. I will give Pernetti one sliver of credit: He hasn't used Rice's 44-51 record (16-38 in the Big East) as an excuse to fire him. Though I'm not sure why he hasn't, especially when combined with the documented abusive behavior.
But I'd imagine Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is just thrilled to have a leader of such character and maturity as Mike Rice entering his league. The league cannot shout "We're No. 1" very often these days, but it looks like it can boast having the biggest bully in college basketball in 2014.
(That's a title the Big Ten once held for three decades running, from 1971-2000. At least that bully won.)
Of course, Rice simply seems to be following Rutgers tradition. Kevin Bannon got in trouble for making his players shoot free throws naked, playing a bizarre strip-basketball game in practice. Fred Hill Jr., son of the Rutgers baseball coach, was forced out after heckling the Pittsburgh baseball staff during a game.
From Frank Kush to Bob Knight to Mike Rice, with scores of others in between, coaches have long gotten away with physical and psychological intimidation and abuse as a motivational tool. It is one of the most profound hypocrisies in college sports.
College campuses are stereotypically billed as citadels of enlightened thought and tolerance. Then you get to the athletic side of campus and see the millionaire tyrant coaches who believe physically accosting young athletes and screaming gay slurs at them will make them play better.
It's called "intensity," in Cult of the Coach parlance. And the more the Cultists praise "intensity" and excuse churlish behavior, the greater leeway coaches believe they have.
Why is that athletic disconnect tolerated? Because presidents love the publicity, energy, synergy and money that sports programs bring to their schools. In no other way could Florida Gulf Coast and Wichita State have gotten the profile boost they've received this NCAA basketball tournament. In exchange for that level of exposure, schools will tolerate a lot.
(That's not to suggest Andy Enfield or Gregg Marshall are thugs to their players on the practice court. I have no reason to believe they are. Just an example.)
It's when the truth leaks out that tolerance of the double standard gets squishy. Indiana found that out with Knight after the video aired of him massaging the throat of guard Neil Reed. (Though, truth be told, Knight kept his job after that and even violated the school's "zero-tolerance" policy on more than one occasion before finally being fired.)
Now it's Rutgers' turn to deal with video of Mike Rice going after the players he purportedly cares so much about. In today's world of instant and visceral reaction, the Scarlet Knights had better have thick skin if they're going to stand by Rice through this.
It should be noted that ESPN interviewed multiple players who were complimentary of Rice and his treatment of them. And it should be noted that effective coaching can often times include yelling, anger and insulting language. It's not all orange slices and trophies and pats on the back, if you want to be really good.
But there is a line between hard coaching and abusive coaching that should not be crossed. When it is, consequences should follow.
And in the case of Mike Rice, consequences more significant than a three-game suspension. If the Rutgers athletic family is as big on accountability as it says it is, it's time to fire some folks.
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