SBD/April 8, 2013/Colleges

Rutgers Looks To Move Quickly On Interim AD; Should Barchi Stay On As President?

Pernetti will be paid his full base contractual salary through June '14, plus bonuses.
Rutgers Univ. will name an interim AD "this week, possibly" today, as the school tries to "regain some sense of normalcy" in the wake of the Mike Rice scandal that cost former AD Tim Pernetti his job, according to a front-page piece by Tom Luicci of the Newark STAR-LEDGER. A source said that former Rutgers College Dean Carl Kirshner, who served as interim AD during the last search in '09, is "expected to return to that role." Once an interim is named, a committee "will be formed, and it is likely Rutgers will again use a search firm." The school's search in '09 "took seven weeks and Rutgers paid Parker Executive Search $58,000 plus expenses to produce three finalists." Sources said that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany also is "expected to play a role in this search," and that Stony Brook AD Jim Fiore, Buccaneers Dir of Football Operations Kevin MacConnell and Baylor AD Ian McCaw also have "been identified as early candidates" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 4/8). In Newark, Sherman & Heyboer reported Pernetti will be paid more than $1.2M "in return for his resignation." Pernetti will be paid his "full base contractual salary" of $453,000 through June '14, in addition to "any bonuses based on the academic progress of students, financial goals and competitive success of any of the school’s revenue sports." He also will retain an "annual automobile stipend" through June '14, and "health and pension benefits" through October '15. Pernetti's settlement package was worth more than $1.25M, "not including bonuses" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 4/6). In New Jersey, Tara Sullivan wrote, "There was no way Tim Pernetti was going to survive this." Rutgers President Robert Barchi "couldn't move forward with trust in Pernetti." Sullivan: "Toxic relations between the two most important decision makers would have crippled a department" (Bergen RECORD, 4/6).

PRESIDENTIAL OVERSIGHT: In New Jersey, Mary Jo Layton writes the fallout from the Rice scandal is "likely to top the agenda" when Barchi holds a town hall meeting in Newark today to "discuss the school’s long-term future" (Bergen RECORD, 4/8). Also in New Jersey, Charles Stile wrote Barchi will "probably hold onto his job." He took the position in '12 while the school went through a "historic and tumultuous merger with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey -- an ambitious project" that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie "predicted would transform Rutgers into a national 'powerhouse.'" Barchi is "betting that cooler heads will prevail when the basketball coach scandal subsides." He could "very well be betting that the state would rather have a somewhat tarnished yet well-respected administrator than delay and possibly jeopardize the grand consolidation project by spending months looking for a replacement" (Bergen RECORD, 4/7). In Newark, Tom Moran wrote Barchi on Friday “did something refreshing and rare in public life these days: He admitted that he completely blew it.” Barchi showed “no attempt to wiggle out of it,” and was “just plain sorry” (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 4/7). In Philadelphia, Bob Ford wrote Barchi was "smart enough to keep a distance from something that could only hurt him." He "gets to keep his job and continue mumbling about process" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 4/7). In Newark, Kelly Heyboer wrote while Barchi's job "appears to be safe," the incident gives a "glimpse into a bureaucracy-laden university with a new president so focused on Rutgers’ impending takeover of a medical university and mapping the school’s future that he had no time or patience to take a personal interest in allegations that his basketball coach was out of control." Sources said that Barchi "not only failed to watch the DVD of Rice’s antics when it first surfaced in November, he made the final decision to suspend and not fire the coach without ever meeting with the independent investigator from the law firm, Connell Foley, hired to look into the affair." He also "signed off on Rice’s suspension without reading the final version" of the independent report (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 4/7). 

FACT FINDING: The STAR-LEDGER's Heyboer noted Connell Foley's report, completed in January, indicated that Rice did not create a "hostile work environment" under a strict interpretation of the Rutgers' anti-discrimination policies. It also "praised the coach for appearing to care deeply for his players." Barchi and other school officials "blamed the Connell Foley report for contributing to the initial decision to suspend Rice instead of firing him." Rutgers BOG Chair Ralph Izzo said, "We paid dearly for good advice and I’m not sure we got good advice in this case" (NJ.com, 4/6). In N.Y., Steve Eder cites the report as finding that Pernetti was "hardly the only person who watched the edited video and still approved of keeping Mr. Rice on staff until last week." The Rutgers athletic department’s HR and CFO "saw the video, as did the university’s outside legal counsel." The report indicated that most senior Rutgers officials when confronted with "explicit details" of Rice's behavior "ignored them or issued relatively light penalties." The interviews and documents in the report "reveal a culture in which the university was far more concerned with protecting itself from legal action than with protecting its students from an abusive coach." School officials "focused on the technical issue of whether Mr. Rice had created a hostile work environment." The report also "made clear" that Pernetti "would have been well within his legal rights" to fire Rice when he initially saw the video (N.Y. TIMES, 4/7). In L.A., Matt Pearce writes the report "legally damned Rice's behavior but painted a softer portrait of the allegations." The review "found no merit in claims of whistle-blower retribution" by former Rutgers assistant coach Eric Murdock "who has become an increasingly complex figure in the controversy" (L.A. TIMES, 4/8). In New Jersey, Mike Kelly asked, "Why did so many allegedly smart academics seem so clueless to the significance of the coach’s abuse and what they needed to do about it?" (Bergen RECORD, 4/7).

Barchi said it was a failure of process not to initially fire Rice
HINDSIGHT BIAS
: Barchi during a press conference on Friday said the decision not to fire Rice when officials first learned of the abuse was a "failure of process" and called Pernetti's resignation a "mutual decision." Barchi: "As Tim acknowledged Wednesday, his decision to rehabilitate rather than fire Coach Rice was wrong" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/6). Barchi said, "I know had I seen the tape that my assessment would have differed from theirs, and I would have acted on my assessment." Barchi, when asked why he did not watch the video when the abuse was first uncovered, said, "I can't answer exactly why I didn't. You can only say in retrospect I sure wish I had." Pernetti said said that his "initial inclination when he saw the videos last fall was to fire Mr. Rice." But he said, “Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals, and outside counsel.” Pernetti added, "I ... wish that I had the opportunity to go back and override it for the sake of everyone involved." But Barchi "disputed that." He said, “I don’t recall any statement to me that his first instinct was to fire him." Meanwhile, Barchi said that the school's pending move to the Big Ten Conference had "no bearing on the decision" not to fire Rice at that time. Delany said, “This will have no impact on Rutgers transitioning its membership to the conference" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/6).

ARE YOU BUYING IT? ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said of Barchi's Friday press conference, “I’ve rarely been as shocked and as disappointed in an alleged leader as I was in this guy. He needs to be fired by Monday and I hope that in New York City where outrage actually affects what happens to people’s jobs and livelihoods, it will in this case. He was accountable for nothing. He was responsible for nothing. He exhibited no leadership whatsoever" ("PTI," ESPN, 4/5). St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell said Barchi "wants us to believe is that he is either a blatant and terrible liar or he completely abdicated his responsibility because the second highest paid salary employee on your campus gets suspended for three games and is fined $75,000 and you didn’t bother to look to see what he did? Yeah, I don’t believe that” ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 4/7). NBC Sports Network's Michelle Beadle said of Barchi, "I thought he looked like a buffoon. I thought he wasn’t able to answer anybody’s legitimate questions that were being asked” (“The Crossover,” NBCSN, 4/5).

AND WHAT OF THE WHISTLE BLOWER? The N.Y. TIMES' Eder reported the FBI is investigating the school and an agent “recently visited" Pernetti's office. A lawyer representing Murdock in December “sent a letter to the university demanding $950,000.” Rutgers “declined to pay the money demanded in the letter, and Murdock eventually publicized" the video footage that showed Rice kicking his players, throwing basketballs at them and taunting them with homophobic slurs. The school said that it “did not renew” Murdock’s contract after the ‘12 season because he "left Rice’s basketball camp early and without permission, among other factors” (N.Y. TIMES, 4/7). In N.Y., Red & O’Keeffe reported a wrongful termination lawsuit “claims the university ignored Murdock’s warnings -- and videos that showed the disgraced coach punching, kicking and belittling players -- for six months before Rice was finally suspended for three games and fined $50,000 on Dec. 13” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/6). The FBI is “investigating Murdock and whether or not he tried to extort Rutgers" with the letter in December asking for a nearly $1M settlement for "what he believed was a wrongful termination of his job.” Murdock’s attorney Barry Kozyra on Friday “staunchly denied those insinuations" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/7).

LOOKING AHEAD: In Newark, Mueller & Wolff wrote the "greatest legal threat" to Rutgers could "come from Rice's former players." However, none of those players currently has "moved to file suit." A more immediate concern could "be the loss of support from loyal donors to the sports program." Criticism of Pernetti's forced resignation also "came from Tom Mendiburu, the co-founder of High Point Solutions, the firm that holds naming rights for the Scarlet Knights' football stadium." Mendiburu "stopped short of saying he would look to cancel the contract." But he added that he would "review his options." High Point has paid Rutgers $1.2M for the naming rights to date, and the contract "runs through 2019" (NJ.com, 4/7).

POP CULTURE PHENOMENON: This week's episode of NBC's "SNL" spoofed the Rice videos with a parody of ESPN's “Outside The Lines” reporting on the “reign of terror” of Division III Middle Delaware State women’s basketball coach Sheila Kelly, played by guest host Melissa McCarthy. The "OTL" host, played by Bill Hader, said Rice’s “behavior, while shocking, seems gentle when compared” to Kelly.” The show obtained practice video of Kelly kicking players, throwing basketballs and shooting a t-shirt gun at them, throwing real bricks at them after a missed shot, throwing a toaster at one player because she was “toast” after being beaten on a play, chasing the players around on the court in a golf cart and verbally abusing them. Kelly at one point yelled, “I will f**king cut that ponytail off.” The school's AD, played by cast member Tim Robinson, said, “Is coach Kelly unconventional? Sure. Have most, if not all, the players come to my office and begged for me to replace her? Yeah! But playing college ball isn’t supposed to be easy or fun or rewarding. It’s supposed to make money for the university"” ("SNL," NBC, 4/6).
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