April 5, 2013 / 1:09 AM / 6 years ago

Pressure builds on Rutgers after coach fired over abuse

NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Thirty-one Rutgers University faculty members have demanded the resignation of the college’s president, and the New Jersey state assembly speaker has proposed public hearings into the abuse of players by former men’s basketball coach Mike Rice.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights coach Mike Rice reacts during the first half of their NCAA men's basketball game against the Syracuse Orange in Piscataway, New Jersey February 19, 2012. REUTERS/Bill Kostroun

The faculty members sent a letter to the Board of Trustees on Wednesday demanding the resignation of President Robert Barchi, alleging the school had hidden facts about Rice for months and fired him only after videos, showing him abusing players verbally and physically at practices, were made public.

Rice was fired as the public university’s basketball coach on Wednesday after the ESPN sports network broadcast videos showing him berating players with homophobic slurs over two years of practice sessions, grabbing and kicking them and throwing basketballs at their heads.

Rutgers Assistant Coach Jimmy Martelli resigned on Wednesday, the university said. He can be seen on the video pushing one of the players.

Athletic Director Tim Pernetti fined and suspended Rice in December when he was made aware of the videos, later admitting after they came out that his discipline was not severe enough.

Rice was entitled to a $100,000 retention bonus under his contract because he was not fired until after Rutgers’ basketball season had ended, according to the university. Rutgers, New Jersey’s largest public university, paid the coach $655,000 last year, the third year of a five-year contract.

The economics of big-time college sports have come under scrutiny in recent years with critics decrying a system in which top football and basketball coaches are given multimillion-dollar contracts while the players go unpaid.

The faculty union asked the university’s board of governors to investigate the Rice matter and to “revisit their oversight of the athletics department and to create a healthy balance between academics and athletics.”

The letter from the faculty members said Barchi should have taken action earlier.

“Although President Barchi is now suggesting otherwise, he has known about Coach Rice’s homophobic, misogynist and abusive behavior for several months now,” the letter by the faculty members read. “Not only did he not fire Coach Rice, he in essence covered up the coach’s actions by failing to tell the faculty and students about them.”

Originally 13 faculty members signed the letter. As of Thursday evening, that number had risen to 31 faculty members, said Belinda Edmondson, a professor and director of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers’ Newark campus and the letter’s lead signatory.

A separate letter was sent to the school on Thursday calling for the resignation of the athletic director, with more than 50 faculty signatures, she said.

University officials did not respond to requests by Reuters for comment on the faculty letter. Rutgers had planned a news conference for Thursday but then canceled it, a spokesman said.

State assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver called on Wednesday for public hearings into how Rutgers handled the Rice incident.

No specific details on the hearings have been decided, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.

A gay rights organization, Garden State Equality, also requested an outside investigation, alleging Rutgers violated anti-bullying laws passed after the 2010 suicide of student Tyler Clementi, 18, who jumped off a bridge after learning that a roommate spied on his homosexual tryst in their dorm room.

Rutgers’ former director of player development, Eric Murdock, reported Rice’s behavior to the university and said he was fired last year for complaining about it. Pernetti denied those allegations to ESPN and said Murdock’s contract was not renewed due to insubordination.

According to Murdock, at least three players transferred out of the Rutgers program due to Rice’s behavior.

Pernetti suspended Rice for three games without pay and fined him $50,000 in December after reviewing hours of tapes that Murdock’s lawyer provided.

Reporting by David Jones; Editing by Daniel Trotta, Bernadette Baum, Eric Beech, Ellen Wulfhorst and Lisa Shumaker

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