Even a program which has struggled to win as much as Rutgers men’s basketball has over the past two decades must put integrity above success on the court. If that means firing a head coach in Mike Rice who seems to have the program nominally headed in the right direction, then so be it.
Rice should be fired, effective immediately.
The recent furor against Rice (and by extension against the entire athletic department at Rutgers) stems from an ESPN expose that aired Tuesday which showed the head coach throwing basketballs at his players, screaming obscenities, shoving and pushing his players like rag dolls and even once using a homophobic slur. When he learned of a video showing the mistreatment of players and assistant coaches on the team, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti suspended Rice for three games in December along with a hefty fine.
But that was before the tapes went public. The punishment handed down five months ago comes nowhere near to fitting the crime.
Even if Rice had the success of Bobby Knight, the former Indiana head coach famous for his tirades who once choked a player, the level of abuse shown in the ESPN piece was over the top. In a day and age where the Supreme Court is weighing the issue of gay marriage and where Title IX has made equal opportunity more than just a dream, Rice’s boorish behavior crosses the line to sadism. It just isn’t right.
Pernetti is likely bulletproof after managing the school into the recent Big 10 expansion, even as his handling of this situation was underwhelming. But Rice forgot, or perhaps never understood, what his role at Rutgers should be. Instead, he corrupted the very meaning of his job and his team.
What it boils down to is we are not talking about the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, an athletic program, but Rutgers University, a place to educate young men and women. These are student-athletes after all, not mercenaries. Rutgers needs to remember this when assessing Rice’s future with the university. Many on the team are just teenagers, away from home for the first time and learning how to be men. Their prime role model in all of this, Rice, is a poor example of what being a man is all about.
And if Rutgers wants to be a university and not a football or basketball factory, then it must cut ties with Rice. Even if his successor finds even less success on the court, Rice can’t be what Rutgers is all about.
It should be about graduation and young people coming of age, without the fear of an authority figure ripping apart their psyche. There is a fine line between tough love and downright degradation, a line Rice didn’t blur but downright annihilated. This should cause the athletic department and the university as a whole to decide what their core values will be moving forward.
No slur, cursing tirade or physical intimidation ever made a player better on the court. It also never made any student-athlete more apt in the classroom. Rice forgot what Rutgers should be about as he pursued something far more trivial on the basketball court.
Like an abused child, the players must learn to heal and seek their own answers from this situation. More than anything, may they grow up to never be like him.
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.