Tim Pernetti resigns as Rutgers athletic director in wake of Mike Rice abuse video scandal
Rutgers University athletic director Tim Pernetti has resigned in the wake of the scandal surrounding former men's basketball coach Mike Rice.
"It was in the best interests of Rutgers University that I step down from my position as Director of Intercollegiate Athletics," Pernetti wrote in a letter to Rutgers president Robert Barchi that was published on the athletic department's website.
Rice was fired on Wednesday after ESPN broadcast video footage of him physically and abusing players during practices. Scarlet Knight assistant coach Jimmy Martelli, son of Saint Joseph's head coach Phil Martelli, also resigned after being shown engaging in similar behavior.
The footage shows Rice firing basketballs at players, hitting them in the back, legs, feet and shoulders. Rice was also shown pushing players in the chest and grabbing them by their jerseys and yanking them around the court. Rice could be heard yelling obscenities at players and using gay slurs.
Pernetti had known about Rice's actions previously. Videos were brought to Pernetti's attention last year by former director of player development Eric Murdock. Pernetti hired an independent investigation firm to look at the video, and concluded at the time that firing Rice wasn't necessary.
Instead, Pernetti suspended Rice for three games and penalized him $75,000 in fines and lost salary. Pernetti also fired Murdock, and Murdock alleges he was dismissed because he brought Rice's actions to Pernetti's attention. Murdock is suing Rutgers for wrongful termination.
In his letter to Barchi, Pernetti wrote that his "first instinct" upon seeing the video of Rice's actions "was to fire him immediately."
"However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals, and outside counsel," Pernetti wrote. "Following review of the independent investigative report, the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal. I have admitted my role in, and regret for, that decision, and wish that I had the opportunity to go back and override it for the sake of everyone involved."
Once the tapes were brought into the national spotlight, the outcry grew for Pernetti and others at Rutgers to take further action. There was also a significant increase in criticism of Pernetti for not having done more to punish Rice in the past.
Though he had a negative perception outside the Rutgers community, Pernetti had widespread support on campus and among alumni - especially among former athletes. The 42-year-old is a New Jersey native and a Rutgers graduate who played tight end for the Scarlet Knights from 1989 to 1993.
NFL stars Ray Rice and Shaun O'Hara and U.S. women's national soccer team veteran Carli Lloyd had publicly called for Pernetti to keep his job. So had Eric LeGrand, a former Rutgers defensive tackle who was paralyzed playing in a game for the Scarlet Knights in 2010.
"My continued tenure as Athletic Director is no longer sustainable for the University which I attended and where a piece of me will always remain," Pernetti wrote in his letter.
Pernetti played a major role in Rutgers' lucrative move from the Big East conference to the Big Ten. After agreeing to the deal last year, Rutgers will officially join the Big Ten next year. The move will bring the school's financially imperiled athletic department millions of dollars in new revenue from television rights and football ticket sales.
"I trust that my tenure at Rutgers will not be judged by this one incident," Pernetti wrote. "I am proud of my efforts to lead Rutgers into the Big Ten, and of all of the accomplishments of our student-athletes in the classroom and on the field of play."
Pernetti also hired Rice to replace Fred Hill Jr. as Rutgers' men's basketball coach back in May of 2010. It was Pernetti's first major move as the Scarlet Knights' athletic director. He took the job in April of 2009.
"As we move forward here, we are going to take a hit in no longer having a charismatic athletic director at the helm," Barchi said. But, he added, "this is not a one-man ship... the fact that we are going to take a hit in making this change in no way deterred us from making it."
There have been demands from Rutgers' faculty, state politicians and the public for Barchi to step down. Barchi said Friday that he did not see the video of Rice's actions until this past Tuesday. He noted that he had only recently become Rutgers' president at the time that the video came to Pernetti's attention.
Barchi became Rutgers' president in September of last year. He previously served as president of Thomas Jefferson University and provost of the University of Pennsylvania.
In his press conference remarks, Barchi said that the footage was "much more pervasive and abusive than I had assumed it to be" from a summary of Rice's actions that he received from Pernetti. Barchi added that it was because of the nature of that summary that he backed Pernetti's initial punishment of Rice, and did not move for further sanctions.
"This was a failure of process," Barchi said. "I regret that I did not ask to see the video when Tim first told me of its existence, because I am certain that this would have a different end had I done so."
Ralph Izzo, chair of Rutgers' board of governors, said that "for sure we will be doing due diligence in terms of lessons learned."
Izzo specifically mentioned a focus on "common sense versus what the law might allow you to do... in future high-profile decisions."
When asked whether this situation would have taken place if ESPN had not brought the videos into a national spotlight, Izzo said, "that's probably true."
"The visual impact is quite different from the spoken impact," Izzo said. "My understanding was that coach Rice's behavior had been modified. I do expect that if there had been a lapse, Mr. Pernetti would have done what he said what he was going to do, which is fire him on the spot."
This article contains information from The Associated Press.