Look at it this way: If Rutgers coach Mike Rice hadn’t gotten fired last week after ESPN broadcast video of him shoving players, hurling basketballs at them, and screaming that they were “faggots” and worse, he was a good bet to get dumped next year after another losing season.
Given Rice’s 44-51 record after three years at New Jersey’s state university, his tenure there was clearly shaky. Nor would Rutgers’ impending move to the Big Ten have made things easier. All of which may have had much to do with the coach’s overwrought behavior. That’s not an alibi, merely an explanation.
Unlike most college teachers, coaches of the money sports at NCAA Division I schools get evaluated in the most public way possible—by their students’ performances on national TV. In return they’re more than amply rewarded. Rice’s yearly salary was $750,000; Tim Pernetti, the athletic director scapegoated for failing to fire him back at the beginning of the basketball season when his transgressions first became known to the Rutgers administration, collected a $1.3 million bonus on his way out the gym door.
But hey, it’s not academia; it’s a combination of showbiz and semi-pro sports. We could all save ourselves a lot of angst by keeping that in mind. No, universities in other countries don’t function as jock factories. The Sorbonne doesn’t recruit defensive tackles, and the biggest intercollegiate sporting event in Great Britain is a boat race that’s basically an excuse for a garden party. But that’s how we do it here in the USA, and how we’re going to keep doing it, so you soreheads in the Sociology department may as well give it a rest.
As the Rolling Stones once observed in a different context, “I know it’s only rock and roll, but I like it.”
It follows that Rice could have handled his players like a combination of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but one more sub-.500 season and he’d have found himself looking for work at the high-school level. Or signing a one-year contract as somebody’s assistant; a second-stringer for life. Rice had put himself under terrific pressure at Rutgers, and it appears he wasn’t handling it well.