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."