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Sunday, April 07, 2013
Dark Days for the Scarlet Knights

The Rutgers scandal is as much about this burgeoning field of sports law as it is about anything—but not in a good way. It is about University officials and their lawyers not doing their job well and being caught up in the same critical mistake that seems to scar all the wrong decisions that lead to these scandals in the first place: allowing the money that flows through the leagues, teams and their stars to color what is right and wrong.

The mess began when Mike Rice’s assistant coach Eric Murdock notified University officials of the coach’s abusive behavior by showing them a video of his outrageous conduct. Instead of just firing Rice for treating their students in an unacceptable manner--like they would any other member of the administration—University officials consulted an outside law firm for a recommendation. After all, unlike even the most prestigious member of the faculty, this coach had a five-year $650,000 contract. The lawyers came to campus, interviewed players and coaches, watched the videotape of the practices we all have now seen, and told the President of the University that Rice had not created a hostile work environment for the former assistant coach Murdock. What? That is like cops investigating the scene of a bank robbery and concluding the transaction did not violate IRS rules when the perp received more than $10,000 in cash from the teller.

Of course, Rutgers was just about to enter the lucrative world of big time athletics by joining the Big Ten. A scandal might upset that plan, forcing the Scarlet Knights to remain in the lowly Atlantic Ten.

When the video finally surfaced, and the public outcry began, Rice was immediately sacked—no lawyers had to be consulted—and the athletic director resigned to the tune of a reportedly $1.25 million severance package.

But wait, the latest is that the FBI is getting involved. Surely, now the focus will be on ensuring that the rights and dignity of students at a state institution are not compromised merely because they sign on to play for one of the school’s extremely profitable athletic programs. Actually, according to today’s New York Times, the FBI is also focusing on Murdock and whether his demand to settle his wrongful discharge suit amounted to extortion.

No one seems to have their eye on the ball.


Your comment about the contract that faculty members do not have is what is wrong with college sports. Long ago colleges got away from being places of learning and became places to cheer on young athletes. If schools returned the focus to academia most of these problems would go away. Give the English Literature professor the $650K contract, not the basketball coach.

Anonymous eplawyer -- 4/07/2013 11:15 AM  

As always, brilliant commentary.

Anonymous Marcie Goodman -- 4/07/2013 9:09 PM  

Are negotiated settlements candidates for extortion? I thought this happened all the time.

Blogger Doug Sligh -- 4/08/2013 8:10 AM  

It is interesting to see how a situation can get out of hand. After reading this article and others involving this scandal, I can say that there were more than the two people fired that were at fault. First and foremost, the university did not need an outside law firm to make a recommendation. They are the administration; they should have the ethical fortitude to make a decision in removing Coach Rice. How the law firm can say that Coach Rice did not make a hostile environment is insane. I feel the article states a very good point that the school was trying to save face and not make a scandal that could jeopardize the school entering in league with the Big Ten. How is this treatment fair to the rest of the administration who would have been fired on the spot? It is even more surprising that once the coach and the athletic director were removed, due to the scandal becoming public nationwide, they each received severance pay totaling over a million, the athletic director being $1.25 million to be exact. Even the FBI are getting involved with the investigation to ensure that the rights and the dignity at this school have not been compromised. All this could have been avoided if the school would have done what was right when allegations and video evidence surfaced instead of being worried of getting into a stronger league. At that point, it was more about money than what was ethically right.

Anonymous francisco -- 4/29/2013 6:24 AM  

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