The head coach and his assistants in collegiate sports may have the most powerful opportunity to shape the values and behavior of athletes at any level. Against the pressure of alumni and fan expectations, they recruit and coach young athletes who are still impressionable and maturing. The coaches have near absolute power, except in the case of "one and done" NBA-bound college basketball players, to influence the arc and future of player's careers. They represent a university that has an educational responsibility.
When coaches behave very badly and abuse rules or the players themselves, the experience becomes dysfunctional and rotten to its core. It then becomes the responsibility of an athletic department and university administration to dramatically intervene to set things right. Lack of oversight leads to situations like Penn State and Jerry Sandusky.
Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice and his assistant Jimmy Martelli ran a rogue, abusive program for years. A videotape revealed practice sessions in which Rice threw basketballs at players and hit them in the back, legs, feet and shoulders. He was also shown pushing players in the chest and grabbing them by their jerseys and pulling them around the court.
Rice is heard yelling obscenities at the players and using gay slurs. Coach Martelli engaged in the physically abusing players regularly during practice and was even more verbally belittling, as observed on tapes shown on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" last week.
When athletic director Tim Pernetti was informed verbally of this behavior, he claims to have launched "hundreds of hours of investigation." Really Mr. Pernetti? Then upon seeing the DVD, he suspended the coach in November for three games. Then, life went on at Rutgers -- until ESPN aired its report and Coach Rice was finally fired. Had ESPN not aired its report would Rice and Martelli still be abusing players at Rutgers?
The questions are evocative of Senator Howard Baker's perpetual query during the 1974 Watergate Investigation. As regards Tim Penetti and Rutgers president Robert Barichi, “what did they know and when did they know it." Pernetti claims the two "worked closely together when the issue came up" but Rutgers issued a statement saying that "Barichi only saw the tape for the first time Tuesday."
Keep in mind this is a school proud of its "Ivy League" approach for keeping sports in proper balance. It is also a school with three previous basketball coaches who had off-the-court issues that affected or ended their tenure.
According to a report by former New York Times reporter Selena Roberts on her Roopstigo.com website, Auburn University's football program changed players' grades to secure eligibility, offered money to potential NFL draft picks so they would return for their senior seasons, and violated NCAA rules under former coach Gene Chizik.
The report alleges that nine players had their grades changed before Auburn's win in the 2011 BCS national championship game so they could remain eligible and play in the game. Players deciding whether to declare early for the NFL draft were given "thousands of dollars" to stay in school. And with a NCAA limit of expenses for recruiting players of $50 per day, one player claims he was given $500. Quite an entertainment allotment for a night in Alabama.
Auburn is not a marginal program. The Tigers were national BCS champions in 2010. If this report is true, they cheated their way to the championship. Once again, where is the oversight? Where was a member of the coaching staff putting a stop to this? Where was the athletic director and University administration? What did they know and when did they know it?
College athletics is supposed to be a learning and personal growth experience for young men. It is supposed to teach values like teamwork, self-discipline, honesty and courage. When the authority figures the athletes are told to respect instead abuse them, encourage anti-gay attitudes, or bribe them it puts the young athletes in harms way. What does the university experience stand for then? Who's in charge?
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.
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