Even with the clarity of retrospect, it seems impossible to understand how Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti could not fire coach Mike Rice the moment he saw that videotape. Horrific judgment? No. Here’s how this happens, and it speaks to how backward and broken this entire enterprise is:
The athletic director is supposed to be checks-and-balances for the coach, but he can’t be when the athletic director’s success and career are tied to the coach’s. What should be boss-employee becomes muddled when the coach is more famous and makes more money and holds the boss’ job in his hands just as much as the reverse is true. The coach makes the guy who hired him look good or bad, and brings in that money from boosters, and nobody can really be the boss in cases of morality when the boss governing all from above is the dollar. That’s how this happens, and that’s how Penn State happened, the only real difference being the way the kids were abused in the name of program protection.
But Rutgers is just a tiny side effect of the real disease, the nosebleed that finally reveals the cancer. The authorities have too much of the power, and the free labor has none, so you essentially have two multibillion-dollar cartels (the NFL and NBA) getting free minor-league systems while conspiring with another cartel (the NCAA) to mine the inner cities for product. Amateur sports are just pro sports in disguise, all the injustices rationalized away in the name of “teaching” and “education,” but all we really learned last week (with Rutgers, with the Pac-12, with Auburn, with UM and the NCAA) is that power is one hell of a drug, and it is easy for the authority figures governing the injustices to overdose on it.
It was a truly awful week for the rotting empire and its principles, but the most symbolic snapshot from it wasn’t even any of those incidents, believe it or not. You could find that elsewhere, on the road to the Final Four, the loudest annual celebration of amateurism.
The filthy four
It is in Atlanta this year, bringing an estimated $70 million of economic impact to the city, and it features Louisville coach Rick Pitino. He would get $425,000 for winning the thing — almost as much as his school president’s $600,000 annual salary. That’s just Pitino’s bonus on top of the $5 million he will make annually through 2022 — a salary made possible at least in part because CBS and Turner paid $10.8 billion for the rights to these basketball Marches. That’s billion, not million.
Left behind on that gold-paved road to the Final Four, screaming and writhing on the ground, trampled in as gruesome a fashion as we’ve ever seen in sports, was one of Pitino’s players, Kevin Ware, literally broken as this corrupt party churned unimpeded toward all that money to be made.