New Jersey state Sen. Ray Lesniak saw this coming.
In the latest scandal to hit Rutgers, reports surfaced alleging new athletic director Julie Hermann directed abuse toward players as head volleyball coach at Tennessee in the 1990s which caused her to resign. According to reports, Rutgers never vetted Hermann about this incident when they decided to hire her to replace Tim Pernetti as athletic director.
Pernetti was forced to resign April 6 after media scrutiny in the wake of firing head basketball coach Mike Rice. Pernetti chose to suspend Rice in December after a video of him berating players came to light as opposed to firing him. When ESPN aired the tape in April, Rice was fired.
“First of all [Pernetti] followed university procedures — human resource and legal procedures that were in place that were inadequate to deal with this situation. He was made the scapegoat rather than the institution taking responsibility,” Lesniak, who has represented New Jersey's 20th district since 1984, told Metro yesterday. Lesniak graduated from Rutgers with a degree in economics and is a men’s basketball season ticket holder. “When you make someone a scapegoat like [Rutgers] President Rob Barchi did, bad things happen and bad things did happen with the hiring of an athletic director who has a very difficult past of abuse of players. The right thing to do is to correct this thing, admit you made a mistake, that it is wrong to make [someone] a scapegoat for an institutional problem and bring back Tim Pernetti and move on from there.”
Pernetti would not speak on the record, but a high-ranking source said the university was on board with Pernetti’s decision last December.
“Everyone was on board with the suspension, including the Committee for Athletics, which included several members of the Board of Governors, and the president of the university to the point that Pernetti was effusively praised in December board meetings for his handling of the situation by all parties,” the source said. “When the tape came out in April, although Pernetti shared in December that it would, they isolated Tim, and reacted to the media and the public outcry. Trenton had their hands in this too.”
In 2012, Rice was kicked out in the first half a Feb. 4 game with Louisville, livid after what he saw as a missed call by the officiating crew. In that game, Rice had to be restrained and then made a choking gesture towards the referees on his way off the court.
After that incident, the source said Pernetti met with Rice and essentially read him the riot act.
“There's no behavior like this from that time until now,” the source said. “More than a year.”
Even away from the sidelines or the practice court, Rice was acting like a changed man — not the one seen in that video. One of Rice’s former players, a multi-year starter for the Scarlet Knights, told Metro he saw a change in Rice dating back to that game against Louisville.
“What I saw, me personally and only me personally, is someone who I think got it. He seemed changed after sort of getting called out,” the player said. “I never saw coach Rice as someone looking to hurt us by all that carrying on. I think he got lost in the wins and losses and maybe that got the better of him. But I don’t think he delighted in hurting us.
“And this year he seemed different. You could tell maybe he was processing things differently.”
The player, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he wasn’t aware of any major outbursts within the past year like those seen on the video obtained by ESPN.
Rutgers is now embroiled in the center of another scandal that could have been avoided had Pernetti not been terminated.
“[Tim] certainly handled the situation under the procedures established by the Rutgers Department of Human Resources and their legal department,” Lesniak said. “When those procedures are followed and result in the correction in the behavior, to fire a person or demand that he resign or be fired, as President Barchi did, is a terrible injustice.”
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.