by Angie Matarozzi
Wally Judge, junior forward for the Rutgers basketball team, recently described former head coach Mike Rice as an older brother for the Scarlet Knights.
“Mike was almost like a big brother,” Judge commented in a recent interview with ESPN. “He would get on the floor with us and go through drills with us. He made it fun. When you have a big-brother type of figure, you know you can play around like that.”
A big brother who hurls balls at his siblings and curses them out with homophobic slurs? Some role model.
Rutgers University of New Brunswick fired head basketball coach Mike Rice on Wednesday, following the release of a videotape showing Rice physically abusing his players and shouting gay slurs at them in practice.
The offending video went viral after the footage was leaked by Eric Murdock—Rutgers’ former director of player development and retired NBA player.
Murdock is currently facing a federal investigation for allegations of attempted extortion against Rutgers based on his request for a $1 million dollar settlement.
He asserts that the settlement would account for an “unfair” termination of his position.
Well before the scandal erupted into mainstream news media, Murdock spoke out against Rice’s tyrannical coaching behavior to university officials. Murdock claims that Rutgers ignored his complaints and instead wrongfully fired him from his two-year position.
Murdock’s video footage included Rice throwing and kicking basketballs at his players, shoving them and shouting offensive expletives at them. Murdock claims that the behavior was typical of the former head basketball coach, who also allegedly targeted specific players in practice.
Lithuanian forward Gilvydas Biruta played for the Scarlet Knights from 2010-2012 and was harassed by Rice before deciding to transfer to the University of Rhode Island.
Biruta said he was specifically besieged by Rice for his ethnicity: “If you’re going to criticize me as a basketball player, I’m okay with that. But he would criticize me as a person.” Biruta cited Rice’s behavior as the main motive in his decision to transfer.
Biruta is not the only athlete to speak out against Rice’s behavior. High profile NBA players have commented on Rice’s flagrant mistreatment of his team based on the highly circulated video.
For instance, LeBron James tweeted on April 13th that “If my son played for Rutgers or a coach like that he would have some real explaining to do and I’m still gone whoop on him afterwards! C’mon!”
As the coaching scandal has gained momentum and new information has surfaced within the past few days, the question remains: what took Rutgers so long to fire Mike Rice?
Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti resigned from his position this week in wake of new reports stating that the athletic department failed to implement decisive measures to resolve the situation.
In the fall leading up to Rice’s expulsion, a private investigator was hired by Rutgers University to investigate Murdock’s evidence against the head coach.
Instead of releasing Rice on the spot, Pernetti chose to suspend him for three games, fining him $50,000 and ordering him to attend anger management classes. Pernetti roundly admitted to mishandling the scandal.
“I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice,” Pernetti said. “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.”
Upon reports that Mike Rice was fired “without cause,” Rutgers will have to pay 75 percent of Rice’s remaining $1.45 million salary.
Although the reputation of Rutgers University has been thrown under fire, Jim Delany, the commissioner of the Big Ten, recently stated that the released video “will have no impact on Rutgers transitioning its membership to the conference.”
What are the broader implications of the Mike Rice scandal within the institution of college basketball?
The game of basketball has traditionally espoused a “tough it out” attitude. There’s no complaining or back-talking to a coach in practice; once players step onto the court they are there to work.
Furthermore, to cultivate hard-nosed basketball programs, coaches seek to establish authority and control, often utilizing tactics of intimidation to work as the motivating force for their players.
However, Mike Rice’s actions were not permissible. Any way you look at it, he was both physically and mentally abusive to his players. Rice crossed the line from motivation to mistreatment.
Ultimately, he received a due consequence for his actions.
Yet how many other coaches around the country are conducting themselves in the same manner within their respective programs?
The Mike Rice scandal is indicative of a woeful lack of responsibility and vigilance on behalf of the NCAA and university officials.
The corrosion of morality and evasion of accountability is ripe within college basketball and scandals are becoming embedded within its culture. Something needs to be done to change the game.
The majority of college practices are now recorded on video, which should give the NCAA further opportunity to train a watchful eye on premier basketball programs. It is the organization’s job to avoid corruption within college basketball and to protect student-athletes from coercion and maltreatment. Furthermore, universities are repeatedly eschewing personal accountability in situations of scandal in order to safeguard the success and reputation of the school. This has to stop.
The firing of Murdock and Rice’s initial mild punishment prove that the Rutgers University was content to sweep the situation under the rug, like many colleges have done in the past to avoid getting caught for illegal or unjust behavior.
The relationship between a coach and player is a unique one and a sense of loyalty and trust is mutually established. A coach fosters the individual growth of a player and has an extreme influence over his entire basketball career. In turn, players often view their coach as fulfilling a brotherly or paternalistic role throughout their college years. So when did coaches begin to devalue their players, thereby perverting the sanctity of these relationships?
The protection of college athletes needs to take precedence over the preservation of a university’s reputation. It’s really as simple as that.