Mike Rice was not fired as the basketball coach at Rutgers on Wednesday because he abused his players.
He was fired because you and I and the governor of New Jersey and everybody across the country found out about his abusive behavior.
This scandal is a miniaturized version of Penn State, which knew all along about the heinous allegations of child sexual abuse against Jerry Sandusky, but only distanced itself from Sandusky and fired head coach Joe Paterno after the transgressions became public.
Such is the state of our fine institutions of higher earning, where defending the brand is more important than safeguarding the kids. On the NCAA website, the first sentence about the organization says, “Founded more than one hundred years ago as a way to protect student-athletes, the NCAA continues to implement that principle with increased emphasis on both athletics and academic excellence.”
That lofty goal seems laughable today, when it’s becoming more and more clear that the No. 1 mission statement among college athletic administrators is, “Take whatever measures necessary to avoid embarrassing THE PROGRAM.”
“When you boil it down, this is exactly the same story as Penn State and so many other programs,” says Ed Berliner, senior media consultant at TheUndefeatedImage.com. “They all think they can get away with it and cover it up and that nobody will notice. That’s crazy in today’s world. If they would just do what needs to be done from the outset, they’d be much better off.”
ESPN obtained and aired a video Tuesday showing several instances of Rice going berserk on his players at practice. He forcefully threw basketballs at players’ heads and crotches. He shoved players in the chest and back, snatched them by their jerseys and yanked them around the court. He yelled profanities and homophobic slurs at his players.
Of course, ESPN is the same network that employs Bob Knight – the maniacal ex-coach who was fired at Indiana for physically abusing a player – but that is another story altogether.
Compared to Rice, Knight is Father Flanagan or Mister Rogers. When the Rutgers practice footage became public Tuesday, there was a national outcry with everyone from LeBron James to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie condemning Rice’s behavior.
Tweeted LeBron: “If my son played for Rutgers or a coach like that, he would have some real explaining to do and I’m still going to whoop him afterwards!”
The thing is, the video ESPN obtained is the same video Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti has had for months; the same video Pernetti watched before he quietly suspended Rice for three games in November and fined him $50,000. On Wednesday, when he ultimately fired Rice, Rutgers’ alluded to some new information and a “review of previously discovered issues.”
Translation: “How were we supposed to know ESPN would get the video?”
The only “new information” is that the video went viral and the whole world found out that the basketball coach at Rutgers is an angry, abusive bully. Now it’s reached a point where one New Jersey legislator – Speaker of the House Sheila Oliver – is calling for an investigation.
“The decision not to dismiss him (Rice) last year needs a complete and thorough review,” Oliver said.
You’ll have to excuse Madam Speaker, but she obviously has no idea about the inner workings of college football and college basketball. There does not need to be an investigation as to why Rice was allowed to keep his job back in November. Every NCAA sports fan knows why.
Even though Rice was a mediocre coach at an irrelevant program, it’s all about protecting the brand – even when it’s a bad brand.
“It all comes down to ego, power and money,” Berliner says. “Welcome to big-time college athletics.”