Two Rutgers players defend former coach

President, AD called on to resign

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Two Rutgers basketball players on Mike Rice’s team say the fired coach wasn’t the abusive tyrant he appears to be on a widely viewed video that ultimately cost him his job.

“You can’t let those individual moments define what he was,” junior forward Wally Judge said during a telephone interview Thursday. “In my past two years, me being an older guy and being under other coaches, I have grown from the moment I stepped in these doors, not only as a player but also as a person because of how he has treated me.”

Sophomore forward Austin Johnson agreed.

“He did a lot for us off the court, academically, socially,” he said during a separate telephone conversation. “I have to say I enjoyed my time, even it was an emotional rollercoaster.”

Rice was fired Wednesday, the day after a video aired on ESPN showing him shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players in practice and using gay slurs.

“I feel if people had a chance to see the other portions of practice, or had been at practice, their judgment would not be as severe,” Johnson said. “I am not saying what he did wasn’t wrong, because I do believe it was wrong. But it is also tough because it was a highlight reel of his worst moments.”

The call from faculty members and politicians to oust top Rutgers University administrators grew louder Thursday.

More than 50 faculty members signed a letter calling for the dismissal of Athletic Director Tim Pernetti and an explanation from President Robert Barchi for why he didn’t fire Rice last year when he learned of a video showing Rice’s behavior during practices.

Stephen Sweeney, the president of the state Senate, also called for Pernetti to step down or be fired.

Pernetti deserves credit for getting Rutgers into the Big Ten conference, but he mishandled this situation, Sweeney said.

“This incident will continue to hang over Rutgers like a dark cloud for weeks, months and perhaps years to come,” the Democratic lawmaker said in a statement. “It seems pretty clear that things were not handled well from the start.”

Barchi, a neuroscience researcher before he became a university administrator, was hired a year ago and took office Sept. 1 to lead the university with 58,000 students on three campuses.

He had been president of Thomas Jefferson University, a Philadelphia health sciences university, and before that was an administrator at the University of Pennsylvania.

He was brought to Rutgers as the university takes over two medical schools that now are part of the separate University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The ongoing reconfiguration of the state’s higher education system is intended to expand Rutgers’ life-science research prowess, and Barchi was chosen largely to oversee that.

He had never been an administrator, though, at a school with athletic scholarships.

Over the past decade, Rutgers’ athletic program has grown increasingly ambitious and expensive, largely as the university’s football team transformed from an also-ran to a power in the Big East conference. The school’s teams are set next year to join the more prestigious Big Ten, a move engineered largely by Pernetti, a former TV sports executive.

Shortly after he took office, Barchi told reporters that high-profile sports teams are an important way to increase the university’s visibility, but that he wanted to gradually reduce the university’s operating subsidy for sports - currently about $8 million per year - while continuing to pay for scholarships for athletes at a cost of about $10 million annually.

Barchi said in a statement Wednesday that Pernetti told him last year about the video of Rice made by a former basketball program employee, but he said he did not watch the video until Tuesday, the day it was made public.

In December, after the university consulted lawyers and commissioned an independent report on Rice’s actions, Barchi said he agreed to suspend the coach for three games, fine him and order him to anger management counseling.

He said that when he saw the video, he realized that Rice needed to be removed entirely.

The faculty calling for Barchi to step down said in their letter that he knew enough to remove the coach months ago.

“Although President Barchi is now suggesting otherwise, he has known about Coach Rice’s homophobic, misogynist and abusive behavior for several months now,” the letter said.

Ron Becker, head of special collections and university archives at Rutgers, said he believes the handling of the situation needs to be reviewed.

“The value of sports and the Division I atmosphere often trumps some of the basic needs of the university,” he said. “The pressure to win and succeed at athletics seems to trump (academics) around here.”

Democratic state lawmakers, particularly Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, have been calling for legislative hearings on why Rice was not fired sooner, but as of Thursday, none had been scheduled.

Keeping the coach on through the season cost the university a portion of Rice’s salary - he was paid $622,500 in 2012 - and also a $100,000 bonus for coaching the final game of the year. “That fact makes his suspension and fine look even more ridiculous,” Sweeney said.

Athletic department spokesman Jason Baum said Thursday that the university is contractually obligated to pay the bonus, which is due this month.

ASSISTANT STEPS DOWN

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — A Rutgers assistant men’s basketball coach has resigned amid a scandal over the way his former boss treated players.

A Rutgers athletic department spokesman confirmed Thursday that assistant coach Jimmy Martelli had left the program.

Coach Mike Rice was fired on Wednesday after a video was made public showing him shoving and kicking players, throwing basketballs at them and berating them with gay slurs.

The Star-Ledger newspaper reported that Martelli was seen in a portion of the video that was not broadcast on television shoving a player during a practice.

Martelli, who also coached with Rice at Robert Morris, is the son of St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli. He was hired by Rutgers in May 2010.

– Associated Press


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