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Sports & Fitness // Hot Air
Steve Murray

Rutgers Coach Rice: Creation Of Culture

Former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice isn’t what’s wrong with the NCAA. He’s merely a symptom of the corruption that has developed in collegiate athletics – a system set up to reward the few at the expense of the many.

Rice certainly makes a convenient villain, charging around the gym mixing a litany of obscenities and physical intimidation that, if not for the protection offered by sport, would have met with nasty retribution long before the infamous mixed tape was released to ESPN.

Rice deserves everything that is happening to him. He, and his even smaller and hyper-aggressive lap dog Jimmy Martelli, is the worst type of tough guy, using his position to intimidate others.

But to think this is an isolated incident is naivety at its very best.

Like Bobby Knight and hordes of coaches before and since, Rice knew his behind-the-scenes exploits are not just tolerated but supported by a system that rewards celebrity coaches even to the detriment of those they are hired to teach.

Knight, one of college basketball’s biggest bullies, knew his victories would protect him from nearly any transgression. And it did for decades, until his ego and feelings of invincibility became so enlarged that he felt it OK to grab and verbally assault a student who dared address Knight as just that, Knight. The former Hoosier coach’s explanation that he was just mildly reminding the young man about the importance of elderly deferment was bought by no one beyond the thousands who cheered every explosive tirade, as if being a complete ass somehow makes you a better coach.

Let us not forget former Wahine basketball coach Jim Bolla, who was eventually fired after playing tough guy with a bunch of 19-year-old women. His sins weren’t of the singular variety and were obviously witnessed by other coaches. Yet everyone remained silent.

Why? Because coaches are all-powerful in college athletics. They control jobs and scholarships. They pressure administrators who actually try to administer, and scoff at the academics who believe attending class is an important part of higher education.

To upset the balance of power is to risk having your livelihood taken away and your education options limited. Perhaps even more dangerous, speaking out can run an assistant afoul of boosters and other coaches when hiring time comes around. “Don’t snitch” isn’t just advice given to urban youths. It’s the mantra of college athletics.

Where the change will come from remains a mystery. As colleague and good buddy Dave Reardon wrote in his April 5 Star-Advertiser column, the NCAA can’t police itself, much less its member schools.

School presidents live at the teat of donors who wouldn’t care if Warden Hazel (Eddie Albert’s character in the original Longest Yard) was in charge of the football program, so long as he won games. The conferences aren’t going to mandate change, since doing so would risk billions in TV revenue, and NCAA leadership is only concerned about NCAA leadership. That, and telling reporters at the Final Four press conference to go stick it. Seriously. The only thing NCAA president Mark Emmert didn’t do was go Slim Shady on the crowd and tell them to put one of those fingers on each hand up.

Mike Rice is a jerk. But don’t act surprised when a faulty system produces a faulty product.

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