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Questions demand further review of Rutgers officials

From an editorial published Thursday in the New York Times:

In November, an extraordinary videotape showing Rutgers basketball players being physically and verbally abused at practice by their ranting coach, Mike Rice, came into the possession of university officials. With Rutgers intent on becoming a first-tier power in the lucrative world of university athletics, officials at the New Jersey institution foolishly sought to minimize the damage by announcing a three-game suspension of Rice and a $50,000 fine, while keeping the extent and details of his misbehavior vague.

But the tape surfaced Tuesday and went instantly viral on the Internet, leaving the nation appalled at the sight of Rice’s yelling homophobic slurs at his players, repeatedly pushing and kicking them for perceived mistakes, and furiously punctuating his supposed lessons in sportsmanship by hurling basketballs point-blank at their heads and torsos. It was a shameful display of the winning-is-everything ethos that can consume moral judgment in the pursuit of college sports victories.

Rice has now been fired (and Tim Pernetti, the athletic director, resigned Friday). Pernetti saw the tape and was thus aware of the abuses before signing off on what amounted to an expensive slap on the wrist. The overseers of Rutgers, the board of trustees, should also promptly and fully investigate the role of other senior officials, up to and including the university president, Robert Barchi.

Rutgers officials spent Tuesday sticking to their initial story that the punishment meted to Rice was “significant” and did not require firing him. They reversed themselves Wednesday only after feeling the full flame of outrage from the public and New Jersey officials demanding to know why an ambitious sports program, financed by taxpayers, sought to protect Rice in his reprehensible behavior.

Any unvarnished investigation must find out who at Rutgers knew what when.

More broadly, it must ask whether their judgment was skewed by the university’s growing commitment to big-time sports. Rutgers is to join the Big Ten Conference next year and paid a past football coach in excess of $2 million a year in heated pursuit of a national championship.

The Rutgers tape is a timely warning to university presidents everywhere as the final games of the NCAA’s basketball tournament play out before the nation.

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