TRENTON, N.J. » Rutgers officials are reviewing practice videos of all sports to see if any coach engaged in behavior like the type that cost men’s basketball coach Mike Rice his job, and the university is planning to hire a consultant to do an independent review of how the school handled Rice’s situation.
University President Robert Barchi, speaking today during a town hall meeting on the school’s Newark campus, said that he wants any instances of bullying or homophobic language to be reported immediately.
He also reiterated that he wished he had viewed the video where Rice shoved players and called them gay slurs when it first surfaced in November, saying he would have fired Rice then.
Rice was fired last week only after the video became public. Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, an assistant basketball coach and the university’s top lawyer also resigned last week, while some Rutgers faculty members and others called for Barchi to step down, too.
Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie today defended Barchi’s performance while blasting Rice’s behavior and the reaction of those who knew about it and did not fire the coach months ago, when the video was given to university officials and viewed by — at least — Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, university interim counsel John Wolf and Mark Hershhorn, the chairman of the university Board of Governors’ athletics committee.
"They were wrong not to come to the conclusion that Coach Rice needed to be fired immediately," Christie said at a news conference. While he had issued statements previously, it was the first time Christie took questions about the scandal at the state’s flagship public university. The Republican governor added that had he been aware of the issues earlier he would have used his "power of persuasion" to try to get Rice fired then.
He said he viewed the video not only as a governor but as the father of a college athlete — his son Andrew plays baseball at Princeton.
"You’re talking about kids being miserably treated by the guy who determined whether they keep their scholarship or not," said Christie, who also described the coach as an "animal."
"What parent would let this animal back into their living room try to recruit their son after this video?" he said.
Christie said it was a mistake for Barchi, who took office in September, not to watch the video last year when he first was told about it. But he said leaders of large organizations must delegate some matters and that the mistake was not a firing offense.
Also today, Rutgers announced that it is commissioning an independent review of Rice’s conduct the way the university handled the situation.
Rutgers said its Board of Governors will meet Thursday to discuss hiring the independent adviser to review the case.
Also today, board chairman Ralph Izzo said that one board member — Hershhorn — had seen the video in December. Izzo said that it was not shown to other members and while the topic of the coach’s conduct was discussed at a committee meeting in December, it was not discussed at the whole-board meeting that month. Neither the university nor Hershorn’s Philadelphia business, responded to requests to interview him.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney called on Hershorn to resign. "Any trustee or member of the Board of Governors who witnessed the tape at any point before it was publicly aired, and took no action, should be removed or resign immediately," he said in a statement.
The scandal has prompted the FBI to investigate whether a former Rutgers basketball employee asked for money from Rutgers in exchange for not taking the videos public, a person familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press on Sunday.
As the investigations mount, Christie said he did not believe that state lawmakers should have an inquiry of their own, saying Rutgers is investigating and that holding hearings would "continue reputational damage" to the school.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who has called for hearings said "the taxpayers, students, faculty, administrators, parents, alumni and other constituents" deserve to know just what happened.
Zezima reported from Newark. Also contributing was AP writer Geoff Mulvihill.