Sunday, April 7, 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.