Why the fuck am I a Rutgers fan? Why the fuck is anyone a Rutgers fan? That’s about all I could think as I watched the video you’ll see below, and the reaction to said video. That will surely dissipate in time (UPDATE: already has, to some extent) – I just sent those first two sentences to a friend who’s also a Rutgers graduate and die-hard fan, in what I think was an attempt to get him to talk me off a ledge/talk me out of saying it because I’m just heated at the moment. But no – this post should be a monument to how I felt in the moment. And that’s exactly how I felt after watching this:
You might remember that in December, Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice was suspended and fined $50,000 for inappropriate behavior during practice, which, it was reported at the time, included throwing basketballs at players’ heads. Well, the video you see above, which aired on today’s Outside the Lines, documents that inappropriate behavior, and judging by the prevailing reaction, has once again made Rutgers athletics the object of national ridicule, this time for off-field/court issues rather than an endless string of agonizing losses.
Why ridicule? Well, as you can see, in the above video, Rice comes off as an unhinged lunatic. The screaming (save for the gay slur) is one thing – everyone’s known Rice was a yeller since, well, forever. Even some of the physical contact can be explained away. The problem is that not all of it can – and the basketball-throwing is beyond the pale. Yes, as Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti said on OTL today (if nothing else, he deserves credit for actually appearing on the show and facing questions), these incidents might not present a clear picture of what happened regularly at practice, but if any of this stuff had even happened one time, it would have been too many – and it clearly didn’t happen one time.
This, of course, isn’t the first time Rutgers’ phenomenally unsuccessful basketball program (NCAA-less streak: 22 years and counting) has found itself in the news due to embarrassing tactics used by a head coach – it’s simply the latest in a near-endless line of bad news surrounding the basketball program. The most amazing thing to think about now is how at one point in time, fans like myself were sure Rice was going to be the guy to orchestrate the long-awaited turnaround. He did an impressive job his first season in squeezing every bit out of a severely undermanned roster. Now… this.
While Pernetti says Rice will stick around barring any additional problems, it’s hard to see how Rice lasts much longer barring a miraculous NCAA run next season (and you won’t believe how quickly all this bad press will fade away if that happens, complete with stories from every corner about how much Rice has learned and grown). For now, we’re left with another Rutgers sports mess, and I’m just tired of it. Painful losses like the one that inspired me to write this are one thing. Incidents that manage to make Rutgers stand out as looking particularly bad even in relation to the incredibly low bar set by the inherently corrupt nature of college sports, to the point we’re getting ripped on by LeBron fucking James? That stings.
OK, maybe whistle-blower Eric Murdock had an ax to grind (his tenure with the program was apparently not a smooth one), but everything about this is a disaster for Rutgers. The fact that Rice’s conduct ever happened at all, the fact that he still has a job – one friend just said to me, “At least it can’t get worse than this,” but I put nothing past Rutgers athletics. It’s an extension of Murphy’s Law: if something can get worse even when you think it can’t, it will. I hope that’s not what happens here. Rutgers fans are nothing if not patient, so I’ll wait and see – but this athletic department needs something, anything to go right in the worst way, and soon. I miss the days of being a national embarrassment purely due to on-field performance.