The head coach and his assistants in collegiate sports may have the
most powerful opportunity to shape the values and behavior of athletes
at any level. Against the pressure of alumni and fan expectations,
they recruit and coach young athletes who are still impressionable and
maturing. The coaches have near absolute power, except in the case of
"one and done" NBA-bound college basketball players, to influence the
arc and future of player's careers. They represent a university that
has an educational responsibility.
When coaches behave very badly and abuse rules or the players
themselves, the experience becomes dysfunctional and rotten to its
core. It then becomes the responsibility of an athletic department and
university administration to dramatically intervene to set things
right. Lack of oversight leads to situations like what occurred at Penn State.
Rutgers University basketball Coach Mike Rice and his assistant Jimmy
Martelli ran a rogue, abusive program for years. A videotape
revealed practice sessions in which Rice threw basketballs at players
and hit them in the back, legs, feet and shoulders. He was also shown
pushing players in the chest and grabbing them by their jerseys and
pulling them around the court. Rice is heard yelling obscenities at
the players and using gay slurs. Coach Martelli engaged in the
physically abusing players regularly during practice and was even
more verbally belittling, as observed on tapes shown on ESPN's
Outside the Lines this week.
When Athletic Director Tim Pernetti was informed verbally of this
behavior, he claims to have launched "hundreds of hours of
investigation." Really Mr. Pernetti? Then upon seeing the DVD, he
suspended the coach in November for three games. Then, life went on at
Rutgers. Until ESPN aired its report and Coach Rice was finally fired
this week. Had ESPN not aired their report would Rice and Martelli
still be abusing players at Rutgers?
The questions are evocative of Senator Howard Baker's perpetual query
during the 1974 Watergate Investigation. As regards Athletic Director
Tim Penetti and University President Robert Barichi, "what did they
know and when did they know it." Pernetti claims the two "worked
closely together when the issue came up," but Rutgers issued a
statement saying that "Barichi only saw the tape for the first time
Tuesday." This is also a school which had three
previous basketball coaches who had off-the-court issues which
affected or ended their tenure.
According to a report by former New York Times reporter Selena Roberts
on her website, Roopstigo.com, Auburn University's football program
changed players' grades to secure eligibility, offered money to
potential NFL draft picks so they would return for their senior
seasons, and violated NCAA rules under former coach Gene Chizik.
The report alleges that nine players had their grades changed before
Auburn's win in the 2011 BCS national championship game so they could
remain eligible and play in the game. Players deciding whether or not
to declare early for the NFL Draft were given "thousands of dollars"
to stay in school. And with a NCAA limit of expenses for recruiting
players of $50 per day, one player claims he was given $500. Quite an
entertainment allotment for a night in Alabama.
Auburn is not a marginal program. They were National (BCS) College
Football Champions in 2010. If this report is true, they cheated their
way to the championship. Once again, where is the oversight? Where was
a member of the coaching staff putting a stop to this? Where was the
athletic director and university administration? What did they know
and when did they know it?
College athletics is supposed to be a learning and personal growth
experience for young men. It is supposed to teach values like
teamwork, self-discipline, honesty and courage. When the authority
figures the athletes are told to respect instead abuse them, encourage
homophobic attitudes, or bribe them it puts the young athletes in harms
way. What does the University experience stand for then? Who's in