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The Rutgers basketball scandal, the most recent scandal in college athletics, the most corrupt athletic forum in America, seems so far away from us.

Rutgers is that university in New Jersey, right? Public school. Never a big deal in sports. Not like Cal or Stanford. Nothing like this could happen out here. So, why should we care?

It's just that a while back, Cal basketball coach Mike Montgomery — good guy, good coach — violently shoved Alan Crabbe during a game on the sideline. Call it physical abuse, because that's what it was. And all hell broke loose. As it should have. People called for Montgomery's suspension and he got censured and he had to apologize publicly and he had to call Crabbe's parents and explain himself.

But what Montgomery did — inexcusable — has nothing on this Rutgers thing, which is the living end.

You've seen the videos. You've seen basketball coach Mike Rice, suddenly no longer the basketball coach, throwing basketballs at players, grabbing players by their uniforms, calling them homophobic slurs. Conduct unbecoming anyone anywhere, certainly unbecoming at the state university of New Jersey.

We must assume Rice is mentally unhinged and his form of being unhinged involves a power trip leading to sadism. And this man was around so-called student-athletes? It is amazing not one of the basketball players slugged Rice. It shows how cowed and intimidated college players are.

OK, that's the setup in this nasty drama. Now come the plot complications, which render this a tragedy for everyone.

It so happens Eric Murdock, Rutgers director of player development — now former director — videotaped Rice in full-abuse mode last fall. Murdock, the only character in this play with a moral compass, took the videotapes to Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti, a man on the rise.

Pernetti, who was guiding Rutgers away from the Big East Conference and into the lucrative, big-time Big Ten, consulted with Rutgers' new president Robert Barchi and, after that, suspended Rice three games, fined him $75,000 and ordered him to an anger-management class.

You may wonder why Pernetti didn't just fire Rice then and there. If, say, a biology prof had hurled a gay slur at a student and then hurled a test tube at him/her and grabbed him/her by the collar, that prof would have been fired the next day.

What makes a coach, an educator of sorts, immune?

President Barchi gave Rice's suspension and fine his OK. Barchi did not demand Rice's firing.


One possible theory: No one wanted the scandal — and that's what it would have been — because the scandal might have loused up the deal with the Big Ten that will bring Rutgers a ton of dough starting in 2014. As usual, money was at the root of the decision. Even at a taxpayer-supported public university. But Barchi got the scandal he was trying to avoid. Serves him right.

The plot thickens.

In the meantime, Rutgers did not renew the contract of Murdock, the whistle blower.

You understand what that means. Instead of doing something significant like firing Rice at the time of disclosure, they dumped Murdock, who had done the right thing by going to the administration.

Murdock felt used. You can imagine his thought process. He probably said to himself — and excuse my East Coast locution here — "Screw me? Well, screw you."

And that's exactly what he did. He screwed Pernetti and Barchi. ESPN aired the videotape last Tuesday.

Last Wednesday, Barchi fired Rice in a New York — well, New Jersey — minute. Not before Rice collected his $622,500 salary and a bonus of $100,000 for lasting the entire season. Barchi issued the lamest, weakest, most self-serving statement to the Rutgers community after he fired Rice. He said he didn't actually watch the video last fall, but conferred with Pernetti. After the video went viral last week, he finally got around to looking at it. And gee whiz. It was kind of raunchy.

Barchi: "Yesterday, I personally reviewed the video evidence, which shows a chronic and pervasive pattern of disturbing behavior. I have now reached the conclusion that Coach Rice cannot continue to serve effectively in a position that demands the highest level of leadership, responsibility ..." Blah blah blah.

Don't you just love how academics talk?

At least 50 faculty members at Rutgers want Barchi out. Why? He claims he didn't watch the Rice video last fall. But it was his job to watch the video. He's the president, for heaven's sake. So, if his claim is true that he didn't watch the video, he is a crummy, lazy administrator and should get fired. And if he actually did watch the video, then he's lying. Another reason to fire him.

There's more.

Barchi didn't act until the video became public last week. Hmm. That surely means he fired Rice to head off a public-relations disaster, and not because it was the correct thing to do.

And remember, this guy is the president of a university and is supposed to model for young adults right thinking and correct moral values. Instead, he has modeled public dishonesty. What a flop!

On Friday, athletic director Pernetti resigned. In a statement, he said he wanted to fire Rice last fall but did not have the support of his superiors. Read Barchi. Assistant basketball coach Jimmy Martelli, also said to be abusive to players and nicknamed "Baby Rice," resigned last week. And now Murdock has filed a wrongful termination suit.

In 2010, a Rutgers freshman committed suicide after his roommate used a webcam to see him kissing a man. The campus is sensitive to gay bashing, as every campus should be. The gay slurs should have been enough to terminate Rice months ago.

And this leads to the larger question. What is the role of sports at a university, at a good university like Rutgers — it has the No. 2 Philosophy Department in America, behind NYU but ahead of Stanford, Cal, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, you name it.

I always thought college sports were a way to develop the body as well as the mind. I always thought college sports were supposed to be regional, Cal and Stanford playing the Big Game and then the alums on both sides drinking Sonoma Pinot Noir afterward and toasting each other.

College sports — mostly basketball and football — are big businesses that pretend not to be big businesses. College basketball and football have allowed themselves to become minor leagues for the NBA and NFL. Hardly the role of a university. Colleges exploit the players and make huge money off their labor and turn around and talk about the purity of college sports. And they end up with characters like Rice, Pernetti and Barchi.

It is a shame Rutgers is joining the Big Ten. It will lead to no good. Already has.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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