A report commissioned by Rutgers University after a scandal led to the ousting of its basketball coach and athletic director finds breakdowns in communication as the university learned about the coach’s physical and verbal abuse of players.
The report calls for the university’s board and central administration to take tighter control of the finances and communications of the athletics department at New Jersey’s flagship state university.
“It is crucial that the risks and rewards of the athletics program be managed with extraordinary diligence and care,” the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom wrote in the report.
University spokesman Greg Trevor says implementing the recommendations will be a top priority for the upcoming school year.
“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure that every student is treated with dignity and respect and that our Rutgers community remains a model of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” University President Robert Barchi said Monday in an email sent to faculty and staff.
The firm was hired in May to hash through the details of problems that blew up a month earlier, when video was made public of then-basketball coach Mike Rice berating players with anti-gay slurs, kicking them and throwing basketballs at them during practices over three years.
The analysis of what happened focused largely on late 2012, when Eric Murdock, a former member of the basketball coaching staff, presented the university with video compiled from tapes of practice he obtained from the school through an open records request.
The report finds that athletic director Tim Pernetti and John Wolf, the school’s top in-house lawyer, took the issue seriously enough that they hired a law firm to gather facts on Rice’s behavior and that Pernetti soon told Mark Hershhorn, the chairman of the Board of Governor’s athletics committee.
But Pernetti and others balked at disciplining Rice until after the investigation could be completed, so long as it could be done quickly. Hershhorn told Pernetti that Rice deserved to be fired if the video was authentic. Hershhorn also did not take the issue to the whole Board of Governors.
Wolf, the report found, did not think other officials needed to view the video. “Wolf believed that a verbal recitation could adequately convey the contents of the video and that the visual images did not add much to a full understanding of the behaviors of Coach Rice,” the case study found.
In December, Pernetti suspended Rice for three games, ordered him to anger-management training and fined him $50,000.
It didn’t attract much attention at the time. But when Murdock shared the practice video compilation with ESPN in early April, a scandal erupted.
Barchi, who said it was the first time he’d seen the images, ordered Rice to be fired. Within days, both Wolf and Pernetti resigned under pressure.
The report calls for clarifying reporting requirements among the Board of Governors, its athletics committee, the university president and athletic director, including setting criteria for when the Board of Governors’ athletics committee presents issues to the full board.
It calls for the athletic director, athletics chief financial officer and communications staff to report to officials in the state university’s central administration.
It also calls for a better risk management structure for the school.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, said the report did not take to task the people who he said deserved it. “Unfortunately the report released today appears to be a Whitewash in that the lawyers hired by the board offer solutions going forward but fail to assign blame where blame belongs: to those who witnessed the tape and neglected to make the full board or public aware of this scandal,” Sweeney said in a statement.
Sweeney has been campaigning to eliminate the university’s Board of Trustees, which is largely an advisory group for the Board of Governors. He said the report highlights that governance at the university is too cumbersome.
Rutgers is in the midst of a major reconfiguration, adding two medical schools to the university, among other changes.
And next year, the athletic programs will join the Big Ten conference.