The NCAA Final Four had to take a bit of a back seat this last week with ESPN’s releasing of the video of Rutgers’ Men’s Basketball Coach, Mike Rice, not only screaming homophobic slurs at his players, but physically abusing them as well. Watching the video probably made a bunch of parents cringe and realize that when they send their children to a coach, they’re not always safe. I’m sure the release of this video prompted coaches across the country to dig around and locate the vault of videos from their own practices and make sure nothing inappropriate or unprofessional was captured on screen. While what we saw was horrific, I’m sure it is happening at other places. What shocked me the most, however, was not the video per se, but rather the ineptitude shown by the administration of Rutgers during this process.
When the above video began to make the rounds on April 2, the public at large seemed to call for Mike Rice to be fired immediately. However, Rutgers stood firm that Rice would remain the head coach. That ‘firm’ stance lasted less than 24 hours, as one week ago today, Mike Rice was fired from his position as the head basketball coach at Rutgers University. What’s interesting is that Athletic Director Tim Pernetti viewed these same tapes in November and gave Coach Rice a three game suspension, fined him $50,000, forced him to attend anger management classes, and gave him a zero tolerance policy and thought it was done.
However, once the furor over the video spread, it was clear that to save face, Rutgers had to fire Rice immediately, which they did. At that time, the university condemned the actions of Coach Rice but emphatically stated that Athletic Director Tim Pernetti’s job was safe. That obviously changed quickly as well, as Pernetti resigned from his position on Friday, April 5. It appeared that Rutgers had ‘cleaned house’, so to speak, and the issue would be put to rest. By sacrificing Pernetti, who will now be given over $1.2M in a severance package, the school tried to distance themselves with the people associated with the scandal.
Then, on Friday afternoon, Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi decided to get behind a microphone and address the issues at hand. To say he was a disappointment would be a gross understatement. He came off as aloof, flippant, and tried to pass the buck more than I thought was possible. He stated he was indeed given the opportunity to see this video in November, but he declined to do so.
Dr. Barchi is a man who has been hired to run a university. It would seem the Rice issue was worth taking a look at. Don’t get me wrong, there are many tasks for a university president and athletics shouldn’t aways be the highest priority. That said, when a university suspends one of their highest paid employees (Coach Rice) for three games and fines him $50,000, it may be worth a few minutes of the president’s time to investigation what happened.
You are talking about an employee of the university who makes $650,000 per year, while the average professor at Rutgers makes $142,000. Barchi didn’t feel the need to dig into the issue? It’s only a 30 minute DVD, for crying out loud. Barchi couldn’t take that little time out of his day?
Rutgers made the decision to move into the Big 10 conference last year. Sports is clearly a huge revenue driver for a university, but Barchi couldn’t be bothered with this? Even when he was informed that Coach Rice was ‘getting physical’ with his players, as well as ‘using homophobic slurs’, Barchi elected to not look at the tapes, but then completely threw Pernetti under the bus during his press conference, saying that Pernetti should have known to fire Rice back in November.
His press conference was such an embarrassment that I felt the need to list some of my favorite quotes:
“This was a failure of process.” Translation: “Our people didn’t make a mistake, the process was a mistake.”
“Chief counsel and outside counsel said it was handled.” Translation: “I left it to my lackeys to make the call, I didn’t want to get involved.”
“I think about resigning every day when I get up.” Translation: “Let me mock the reporters, showing I am jealous of the severance packages that Rice and Pernetti will get because I don’t have a contract with set dates. If I get fired, I get nothing.”
“We all bare responsibility for our decisions. In this particular case it was handled by the Athletic Director.” Translation: “Don’t try to pin this on me, it is Pernetti’s fault.”
“I’ve been here barely time to get things down on paper.” Translation: “Cut me some slack, I haven’t even been president for a year!”
“Look and my role and contributions, take a step back and take a deep breath.” Translation: “First, let me contradict my last quote. Now, come on, a coach beating up players just about every day is below me. You can’t get rid of me over this, right?”
“Stress levels here are very high. I am on a tough path to walk, and I can’t walk it without help.” Translation: “Just so that we are all clear, this isn’t my fault. I take no responsibility. Glad we all understand that now.”
“It was his and legal counsel’s responsibility to handle this.” Translation: “Let me say it one last time, I had nothing to do with this, it was all Pernetti, so can we all just forget it happened? Thanks!”
And finally, my personal favorite, which is in reference to when Barchi was first offered to see the video in question back in November:
“I was still trying to find my way between my house to Old Queens without getting lost. They were sending police out and looking for me on campus that that point.”Translation: “Come on people, I just started this gig! You can’t ask me to make decisions or be bothered with anything for at least a couple of years.”
When Dr. Barchi did finally getting around to watching the DVD last Tuesday, he said that within five minutes he knew Coach Rice had to be fired. He also said Pernetti’s decision to rehabilitate instead of fire Rice was wrong. This was rather interesting, considering Barchi opened his press conference by reading Tim Pernetti’s resignation letter, which contained the below paragraph:
As you know, my first instincts when I saw the videotape of Coach Rice’s behavior was to fire him immediately. However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals, and outside counsel. Following review of the independent investigative report, the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal.
Barchi’s statement completely contradicts what Pernetti stated, but Barchi read it to the room of reporters as if it were the truth and then did everything he could to separate himself from the situation. Let’s consider what Pernetti lists in his letter. The university decided they wouldn’t be justified in terminating someone for physically assaulting and using homophobic slurs against their students? Seems more than a bit strange. Would it be the same thought process if this were a chemistry professor?
At the end of the day, Dr. Barchi is supposed to be the leader at the university but doesn’t feel the need to watch the video in question or learn further about the situation, yet he is more than happy to pass the blame in every way possible? If any prospective students or their families watched that trainwreck of a press conference Friday, you would have to think they would be having second thoughts about attending the fine school that is Rutgers if Dr. Robert Barchi is going to continue to be the leader.
We continuously try to make the point that situations will arise whether in business, education, or anywhere else, where you will be put to the test to get through a difficult situation and do everything in your power to manage your reputation through the process. By no means do I condone the disgusting behavior exhibited by Mike Rice, but Dr. Barchi did all he could to lay out a blueprint as how to not lead a university through adversity, and I’m shocked he still has his job today.