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Thoughts from Behind the Pressline

Last week the news was a buzz with the now-disgraced basketball coach at Rutgers University, Mike Rice, who was fired for physically assaulting and verbally abusing his players. As the story played out, we learned that Rice’s actions were known by college officials. He was fined and disciplined by his immediate supervisor, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti.

Pernetti was “encouraged” to resign after University President Robert L. Barchi, who initially approved the AD’s suspension of Rice for three games in December and fined him $50,000, chose to dismiss Rice after he finally viewed the tapes himself, just prior to the Rice dismissal announcement and the public release of the tapes.

We’ve also learned that the FBI is now investigating whether Eric Murdock, a Rutgers assistant coach whose practice videos led to the entire issue reaching the light of public opinion, tried to extort funds from the university.

In a New York Times story a December letter written by Murdock’s attorney, demanding $950,000, was obtained by ESPN and released last Friday. The money was sought as a settlement of Murdock’s wrongful termination claims, the letter said. Rutgers declined to settle the claim.

Murdock subsequently released Rutgers’ practice video, which was aired and showed the verbal and physical abuse of players on the part of Rice.

Like other stories we’ve seen in the past, the actions seems to follow an all too often pattern be it corporate, academia, religious or government culture. The playbook calls for damage control and plausible deniability by senior management. The hope seems to be — contain the story, put up a stone wall and try to move on. Once it’s apparent the story will become public, plan B is to attempt to get ahead of the breaking story by taking very definitive public action, designed to quell public outrage and establish a fire break to protect senior management and the institution. Sometimes it’s enough and other times this action backfires, making the situation worst.

Dan Alexander is associate publisher of New Market Press and publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at dan@newmarketpressvt.com or dan@denpubs.com.

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