NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — The Rutgers basketball scandal claimed two more university officials today, including the athletic director and an interim senior vice president, who were involved in a decision to “rehabilitate” rather than fire the coach whose abusive behavior was captured on a video.
University President Robert Barchi’s job appeared to be safe after getting a public nod of support from the school’s board of governors.
The day began with a letter of resignation sent to Barchi by AD Tim Pernetti, who said he hoped his tenure at Rutgers “will not be judged by this one incident.”
When he first saw the video of coach Mike Rice pushing, shoving and throwing balls at players in November, Pernetti said he wanted to fire him on the spot. However, he said the consensus among school officials at the time was that it didn’t warrant dismissal.
The video, shown Tuesday on ESPN, prompted outrage not only on the Rutgers campus but nationwide. It also includes obscenities and slurs, which the campus is especially sensitive because of the suicide by student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off a bridge days after his roommate used a webcam to see him kissing another man.
At a news conference Friday, Barchi said he first saw the video this week, but was aware it existed in late November. He said Pernetti gave him a summary of what was on it at the time.
“This was a failure of process. I regret that I did not ask to see this video when Tim first told me of its existence,” Barchi said. “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. I personally know how hurtful that language can be.”
Based on the information he received from Pernetti, Barchi said he “agreed with and supported his recommendation to suspend, rather than fire, coach Rice at that time. It was not until Tuesday evening of this week, when I watched the video, that I had the opportunity to witness personally for the first time what Tim had seen last fall.
“I was deeply disturbed by the behavior that the video revealed, which was much more abusive and pervasive than I had understood it to be. As Tim acknowledged on Wednesday, his decision to rehabilitate, rather than fire, coach Rice was wrong.”
Pernetti was given the video by a former employee, Eric Murdock, and the decision was made in December to suspend Rice for three games, fine and dock him pay totaling $75,000 and order him to attend anger management classes.
The 42-year-old Pernetti is a Rutgers graduate who played tight end for the Scarlet Knights from 1989-93.
Also resigning today was John B. Wolf, Rutgers’ interim senior vice president and general counsel, who is believed to have recommended against firing Rice in December. On Thursday, assistant coach Jimmy Martelli resigned.
Barchi’s position appears to be safe.
“At the end of the day, he has to run this place, day in and day out,” Ralph Izzo, chairman of the school’s board of governors, said. “And I think he is the right person to run this place for many years to come.”
Pernetti said in his resignation letter to Barchi that he has “spent a great deal of time reflecting on the events which led to today. 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. I have admitted my role in, and regret for, that decision, and wish that I had the opportunity to go back and override it for the sake of everyone involved.”
Pernetti’s finest hour may have been when he helped in the school’s move to the Big Ten Conference, which means millions in additional revenue by way of television contracts and more national exposure, especially in football. The move, which becomes official in 2014, should provide a big boost to the program in recruiting and season ticket sales. The Scarlet Knights will continue to play next season in the Big East.
Pernetti’s first major move as athletic director came in May 2010, when he hired the volatile Rice away from Robert Morris, which he took to two NCAA tournament appearances.
“He convinced me he understood his reputation, but he also understood where the line was,” Pernetti said, referring to Rice. “I made clear to him if he crossed the line he would be held accountable.”
Pernetti viewed Rice as the man who could turn the perennially underachieving program around.
It didn’t happen. Rice went 44-51 in three years and posted a 16-38 mark in the Big East after going 73-31 in three seasons at Robert Morris. The Scarlet Knights went 15-16 this season, including 5-13 in the league.