NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Rutgers University’s athletic director on Friday became the latest official to exit New Jersey’s largest public college, three days after revelations that its former basketball coach abused players and berated them with homophobic slurs.
The school’s president, Robert Barchi, held the support of Rutgers’ board of governors, and state Governor Chris Christie commended his “decisive leadership” after Barchi fired the coach, Mike Rice, and negotiated the exit of Athletic Director Tim Pernetti.
Barchi, who took the top job at the 58,000-student school in September, said he regretted not acting sooner after learning last year of a video of Rice’s behavior. At the time, Pernetti suspended Rice.
“This was a failure of process. I regret that I did not ask to see the video when Tim first told me of its existence,” Barchi said at the school’s New Brunswick campus on Friday.
Barchi said he viewed the video with Pernetti after its release by ESPN on Tuesday provoked outrage among Rutgers’ fans, students and faculty. He fired Rice the next day.
On Friday, he said he had been “deeply disturbed” by the images of Rice hitting players and shouting slurs at them, behavior that he described as “much more abusive and pervasive” than he had expected.
The scandal broke as college basketball races through its championships, televised matchups that go on through weeks of “March Madness” playoffs ahead of this weekend’s “Final Four.” The TV deals are big moneymakers for basketball powerhouses like those in the Big East conference, where Rutgers competed this season, and the Big Ten conference, which it is joining.
While the college athletes play without a salary, Rice last year was paid $655,000 in the third year of his five-year contract at the partly state-funded university.
“I commend President Barchi for his decisive leadership in coming to an agreement with Mr. Pernetti to have the Athletic Department of Rutgers University come under new leadership,” said Governor Christie, a Republican seen as a contender for the 2016 presidential nomination.
“This entire incident was regrettable and while it has damaged the reputation of our state university, we need to move forward now.”
Rutgers’ administration learned of the videotapes showing Rice’s behavior last year from Eric Murdock, a member of the university’s sports staff, who said he complained to Rice and Pernetti and eventually provided the video.
On Friday, Murdock filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior court saying he was fired in July 2012 in retaliation for his complaints. The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified financial damages, named the university and officers including Barchi, Pernetti and Rice as defendants.
A Rutgers spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the lawsuit, though school officials at Friday’s press conference denied allegations that Murdock had been fired. They have said that they did not renew his contract, without providing details.
Rice’s firing and the resignation of Assistant Coach Jimmy Martelli did little to assuage the anger of 31 faculty members who on Thursday called for Barchi’s resignation. Pernetti’s resignation, which came the same day as that of interim university general counsel John Wolf, partly mollified some of them.
Beryl Satter, one of the professors who had called for Barchi to go, described Pernetti’s exit as a step in the right direction, but she said it was not enough to allay her concerns.
“I would like to see it go further, but at least it shows they’re beginning to understand if they don’t take this abusive action seriously, other people do,” Satter said. “There’s a chain of command and he’s only in the middle.”
The speaker of the state assembly, Democrat Sheila Oliver, who had called for hearings into how the university handled the incident, said she was not yet satisfied.
“President Barchi owes New Jersey an explanation for his decision-making, and the university needs to become more transparent,” she said.
Ralph Izzo, chairman of Rutgers University’s board of governors, defended Barchi’s handling of the situation on Friday and told reporters he believed Barchi was “the right person to run this place for many years to come.”
Izzo is also chief executive of New Jersey power company Public Service Enterprise Group Inc.
Barchi described Pernetti’s resignation as a “mutual decision” and said the athletic director “always had the good of Rutgers and its student athletes in mind.”
Additional reporting by Dave Warner in Philadelphia and Tom Brown in Miami; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Paul Thomasch, Toni Reinhold