Pernetti and Two Others Forced Out in Wake of Rutgers Scandal

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers director of intercollegiate athletics Timothy Pernetti resigned Friday following an embarrassing scandal involving the misconduct of head basketball coach Mike Rice.

Pernetti played football for Rutgers in the early 1990's, and he made the unusual jump from television executive to college athletics director in 2009 when he was hired to the $410,000 job by then-President Richard McCormick.

"My continued tenure as athletic director is no longer sustainable," Pernetti wrote in a letter of resignation submitted to current Rutgers President Robert Barchi.  Pernetti stood by the embattled basketball coach at first, after the videos first aired last Tuesday.

"Tim and I mutually agreed that this is in the best interests of Rutgers," Barchi said, calling the unfortunate situation a "failure of process."

The administration and Pernetti reached an agreement that will pay Pernetti more than $1.25 million for his voluntary resignation.  Barchi announced Friday that he had accepted the resignation at a crowded press conference in Winants Hall, and read the letter aloud at Pernetti's request.

One day earlier, Barchi accepted the resignation of interim senior vice president John Wolf, who also serves as the university's official attorney.

Wolf had helped the administration evaluate the evidence against Coach Rice, who was fired without cause on Wednesday.  Wolf was one of the first Rutgers officials to watch the damning videos first shared with university officials on November 26.

"At the time, the legal team advising Tim and me agreed that the decision we made was within the bounds of reasonableness," Barchi said in his prepared statement on Friday.

Wolf, whose base salary is $280,775, has been with the university since 1984.  Barchi said that he resigned "from his leadership position".

According to the Rutgers university website, Wolf is a member of the administration's senior leadership team and "oversees all legal affairs for the University, serves as chief compliance officer, and advises the governing boards and administration."

Also on Thursday, Pernetti accepted the resignation of Jimmy Martelli, an assistant coach who is also shown on video shoving players, while the athletics department ramped up a campaign to save Pernetti's job.

Four and a half months ago, Barchi and Pernetti agreed to suspend and fine, rather than fire Rice.  Barchi said that seeing the controversial video compilation of Rice's behavior made him realize the wrong decision had been made.  

"I was deeply disturbed by the behavior the video revealed which was much more abusive and pervasive than I had understood it to be."

The videos showing Rice's name-calling and abusive behavior were only part of the official reason for terminating Rice. Other reasons cited included perceived inabilities of Rice to perform a role that called for impeccable public accountability and management skills.

As the director of athletic development sent a mass email to donors asking them to voice their support for the embattled athletic director, over 4,000 people joined a Facebook group in support of Pernetti.

That night, NFL star and Rutgers alum Ray Rice (not to be confused with coach Mike Rice) joined the chorus of current and former athletes to express their support for Pernetti.

The efforts fell short, as Pernetti agreed to resign on Friday.  A press conference scheduled for Thursday by the university was cancelled.

Barchi praised Pernetti for his honesty and skills, even as he announced his resignation, calling him a "stand-up Rutgers guy."  He also acknowledged Pernetti's crowning accomplishment: leading the negotiations that secured Rutgers a place in the Big Ten athletic conference.

Those negotiations concluded with the stunning announcement that Rutgers would switch conferences, an announcement made right around the time that former employee Eric Murdock's allegations against Mike Rice began to be taken seriously.

Pernetti claimed in the resignation letter that the Rutgers administration's process kept him from immediately firing Rice, even though his "first instinct" was to fire the coach:

"As you know my first instincts when I saw the videotape of Coach Rice's behavior was to fire him immediately," the letter reads. "However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resource personnel and professionals, and outside counsel."

But Barchi said that he didn't recall hearing that from Pernetti.

"I don't recall hearing any statement to me that his first instinct was to fire him," Barchi said when pressed by a reporter.  "I was first presented with this after a discussion had already taken place with the lawyers."

The university had asked legal counsel and human resources staff to investigate whether anyone had done anything wrong in the matter, and hired an outside counsel, but Pernetti claimed they could not justify firing Rice under Rutgers policy.

Because Rice finished the season, he is entitled to a $100,000 bonus.  Pernetti said he wished he could go back and override the process, acknowledging he was in a position to do so.

"Following review of the independent investigative report, the concensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal.  I have admitted my role in and my regret for that decision.  And I wish that I had the opportunity to go back and override it for the sake of everyone involved."

However, the outside counsel's report, made public after the announcement of Pernetti's resignation, actually said: "We believe there is sufficient evidence to find that certain actions of Coach Rice did 'cross the line' of permissible conduct and that such actions constituted harassment or intimidation within Rutgers' Policy."

"We believe that AD Pernetti could reasonably determine that Coach Rice's actions tended to embarrass and bring shame or disgrace to Rutgers in violation of Coach Rice's employment contract with Rutgers," the report also said.

But Barchi told reporters that Rice was fired without cause, even though the Star-Ledger reported that Rice's contract would allow him to be fired for brining "shame or disgrace to the university."

"The coach was not fired for cause.  Let's be very clear about that.  The outside counsel said that could not be done and I believe that all the opinions that we've had from a legal point of view said that would be the case."

"I fired him, not for cause.  I just fired him.  Are we absolutely clear about that?" Barchi said.

Not cited was Rice's poor win-loss ratio over his three years in the job.  The Scarlet Knights went a combined 44-51 under Rice's leadership.

Rice actually did better than his predecessor, Fred Hill, winning 45% of his games to Hill's 43%.  Rice's teams only won 31% of their games against fellow Big East teams, still favorable compared to Hill's 19%.

For his part, President Barchi apologized to Rutgers stakeholders, and community members in general, for the failure to promptly fire Rice, asserting it was a "failure of process."

"I regret that I did not ask to see the video when Tim first told me of its existence, because I am certain that this situation would have had a very different outcome had I done so," Barchi said.

According to Barchi, he had not asked to see the video when Pernetti had initially told him of its existence.  Instead, Barchi relied on Pernetti's brief summary of Rice's tantrums.

"Tim gave me a summary description of the situation regarding Coach Mike Rice last fall.  Relying on that summary, I agreed with and supported his recommendation to suspend rather than fire Coach Rice at that time."

"So I want to personally apologize to the entire Rutgers community… for the negative impact that this situation has had on Rutgers," Barchi said.  "I apologize to any student athletes on the team who may have been harmed."

Barchi also apologized specifically to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community, and those who share their values, "for the homophobic slurs shown on that video."

Currently in his eighth month as university president, Barchi vowed to appoint a temporary athletics director in the coming days and to promptly search for a longer-term replacement for Pernetti.

Barchi said in his remarks on Friday that the video showed "unacceptable" behavior that "does not represent the high standards of leadership and accountability we strive for within the Rutgers athletic program."

Barchi also said that he first saw the video of Rice's misbehavior on late Tuesday night, many hours after it first aired on television sparking an immediate controversy.

Asked why he didn't watch the tape in November when he became aware of it, Barchi said, "I can't answer exactly why I didn't.  You can only say in retrospect, 'Sure wish I had.'"

"I understood it to be anyway that we were looking at a very small number of episodes out of three years," Barchi said. 

"And I had no idea what the context was at the time."

"It's very easy in retrospectoscope to see what you should have done," Barchi said.

But earlier this week, Pernetti told WFAN's Mike Francesa that Barchi had seen the video.

"Did your president see this tape?" asked Francesa during the live interview Tuesday afternoon.

"Yes," responded Pernetti.

Barchi said Pernetti was mistaken when questioned at the press conference, calling Pernetti's comments "a miscommunication between the way the question was asked and what he said."

"It's a timing issue," Barchi added, saying that he was stuck in meetings in Newark all day, without a break:

[Pernetti] gave me the DVD… I had nothing with me but my Apple which didn't read that disc.

Actually, he thought I had seen it because I was going to try to read it on my computer.  Couldn't do that…

As soon as I came home, I said 'Tim, I'm coming to your office.'… So I didn't actually see it until 10 o'clock that night.

But Tim was under the… impression that I would have seen it on the computer.  So that's what he was saying, he never said that I saw it last November.

During the hour-long press conference, Barchi struggled at times, stressing his newness in the job and, for some reason, that the team's practices were open to the public.

"All of these practices were public.  If you look in the back of the video, there people in the stands, right?" Barchi said at one point.

"Nobody said anything for three years about anything.  It wasn't just our athletic department, there were people there!  I don't understand what happened."

An ESPN reporter took issue with Barchi's assertion that "nobody said anything," because Murdock raised the issue numerous times.

In fact, the independent investigation report released at the conclusion of the press event showed one player had complained that he felt "bullied" by Rice, and that Pernetti had taken disciplinary action against Rice for similar behavior twice in 2012.

"We're all surprised that this could get to where it got without anyone ever having said something," Barchi continued.

Rutgers Board of Governors chairman Ralph Izzo had some kind words for Barchi, hoping to quell the calls for Barchi's resignation.

"I think [Barchi]'s the right person to run this place for many years to come," said Izzo, who chairs the board that hires and fires the president.

"I congratulate Dr. Barchi on the two actions that have taken place so far: the mutual agreement in the case of the athletic director and in the case of the acting general counsel," said Barchi.

Izzo complimented Barchi for his ability to make tough decisions, and his focus on the school's two primary objectives: to absorb the University of Medicine & Dentistry of NJ, and to develop a strategic plan for Rutgers to follow over the next decade.

"I think he did the right thing by acquesing to that advice at the time," Izzo said of the decision to suspend instead of fire the coach.

"Presented with different information–or let's say the same information in a different form–[Barchi] acted promtply within less than 24 hours [to fire Rice]."

But Izzo also said admitted the board's athletics committee dropped the ball, having reviewed unspecified video and been informed of Rice's suspension, then failing to report it at the full board's December 14 meeting in Camden.

"At that meeting, the joint board of governors/board of trustees committee on athletics was given a report by Athletic Director Pernetti… that action had been taken with the head basketball coach for inappropriate behavior," Izzo said.

"It's a little unclear.  What is clear is that video was reviewed, but as Dr. Barchi has said there's many many hours of video."

"I and several of the other board members don't remember it coming up in the full board meeting so we went back and checked the meeting and in fact  fact the committee on athletics did not report out that particular item of the agenda."

Reporter at New Brunswick Today

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