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Clouds of crisis, controversy surround Rutgers

Sunday - 4/7/2013, 1:14pm  ET

Rutgers President Robert Barchi describes Friday, April 5, 2013, in New Brunswick, N.J., the shoving he saw on a video that showed men's head basketball coach Mike Rice's abusive behavior. Barchi also announced the resignation of athletic director Tim Pernetti, who had decided to "rehabilitate" rather than fire Rice, whose abusive behavior was captured on a video. Barchi's job appeared to be safe. Pernetti dismissed Rice on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

TOM CANAVAN
AP Sports Writer

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) -- Just a few months ago, things could not have been more promising for Rutgers as it looked to bolster its place in college sports.

The university said to be the birthplace of college football had just been accepted to the Big Ten Conference. And with that came guarantees of national exposure and big paydays. The conductor of this gravy train was a fresh-faced, popular athletic director.

The state university of New Jersey finally had its invitation to join the elite of college sports. That was in November.

Then April came.

In a span of four days, a men's basketball scandal ripped through the campus. Suddenly, all the buoyant feelings were gone, replaced by crisis and controversy reaching the highest level of the university. Jobs were lost and reputations damaged, the debate rippling across the country.

"There is no question that big-time athletics have some risks. I didn't expect to see them so quickly."

Those were the words of Rutgers President Robert Barchi, in his first year with the school, at a Friday news conference that seemed to provide as many questions as answers.

On Wednesday, Rutgers fired coach Mike Rice after a video aired showing him shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players in practice and using anti-gay slurs. The video, broadcast Tuesday on ESPN, prompted stinging criticism, including a statement from Gov. Chris Christie.

On Thursday, Jimmy Martelli, one of Rice's assistants, resigned. And on Friday, the crisis came to a head, when Barchi announced the resignation of athletic director Tim Pernetti, as well as that of John Wolf, Rutgers' interim general counsel.

"This," Barchi said, "was a failure of process."

And it may have been avoided if Rice was fired in November, when Pernetti was first given the video from former basketball staff member Eric Murdock. Instead, after an investigation from an outside firm, Pernetti, with the approval of Barchi, elected to give Rice a three-game suspension, a $75,000 fine, and ordered him to attend anger management classes.

Barchi, despite Pernetti's claims to the contrary in a radio interview Tuesday, did not view the video until last week.

"I was deeply disturbed by the behavior that the video revealed, which was much more abusive and pervasive than I had understood it to be," Barchi said. "As Tim acknowledged on Wednesday, his decision to rehabilitate, rather than fire, coach Rice was wrong."

As a result, Rutgers is now under a harsh spotlight three years after freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate made a webcast of him kissing another man.

"As we move forward here," Barchi said, "we are going to take a hit."

And the hits keep on coming:

--Some students and faculty want Barchi to leave.

--Murdock filed a whistleblower suit.

--Two major supporters, including the company that purchased the naming rights to the football stadium, are considering cutting off money because of their loyalty to Pernetti.

"This entire incident was regrettable," Christie said. "And while it has damaged the reputation of our state university, we need to move forward now on a number of fronts which provide great opportunities for Rutgers' future."

Pernetti maintains his November decision was made because the consensus among school officials and outside counsel was that Rice's actions didn't warrant dismissal. Pernetti, in fact, wrote in his resignation letter that his inclination was to fire Rice "immediately."

Barchi, who began in September, compounded the situation by never asking to see the video, which he knew existed. It was a compilation of practice lowlights.

"We all bear the responsibility of our decisions, and the consequences have to be shared by all who make them," " Barchi said.

In hindsight, he said he made a mistake.

Barchi, who was hired to oversee the merger of the medical school with the university, said the leader of an institution has to trust his subordinates to provide him with recommendations, and he did in this case.

Pernetti was influenced by the report of independent counsel John Lacey, a lawyer hired by Rutgers last year to investigate Murdock's complaints against Rice. He found that while Rice sometimes behaved inappropriately, many of the clips were taken out of out of context and did not create a hostile work environment or constitute harassment or bullying.

One of Rice's players concurred.

"Mike was almost like a big brother. He would get on the floor with us and go through drills with us. He made it fun," junior forward Wally Judge said. "When you have a big brother-type of figure, you know you can play around like that. I have grabbed Mike and put him in a headlock and we joke around and kid. That was the type of relationship he built with his players."

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