Tim Pernetti, a Rutgers graduate and former Scarlet Knights football player, has resigned as athletic director, university President Robert Barchi announced during a news conference Friday.
After two days of public outcry over the abusive behavior of basketball coach Mike Rice, who was disciplined last year for physical and verbal abuse of his players and eventually was removed from his job Wednesday, Pernetti is the first administrator to leave under pressure in the wake of the scandal.
The 42-year-old Pernetti, who helped Rutgers navigate from the crumbling Big East Conference into the powerful Big Ten Conference, could not overcome public outrage over the fact that he and Barchi gave a virtual slap on the wrist to Rice after a former employee came to them with video evidence that Rice pushed, shoved and threw basketballs at his players. Rice also was heard verbally abusing the players, including the use of anti-gay slurs.
“Tim and I mutually agreed that this is in the best interest of Rutgers,” Barchi said. “I appreciated the positive things that Tim has done for the university, but I also recognize the gravity of recent developments in regards to the men’s basketball program.”
Barchi, who partly blamed himself for not reviewing the video of Rice’s abusive behavior last year, apologized for the scandal.
“I want to apologize to the entire Rutgers community for the negative impact that this situation has had on Rutgers,” Barchi said.
In a statement that Barchi read during the news conference and was posted at scarletknights.com, Pernetti said he resigned reluctantly because he has always loved Rutgers.
“My continued tenure as Athletic Director is no longer sustainable for the University which I attended and where a piece of me will always remain,” Pernetti’s statement read. “In connection with the incidents involving former basketball Coach Mike Rice, as was the case with all other matters which I handled on behalf of the University, I always tried my best to do what is right.”
After an independent investigation last year, Pernetti and Barchi suspended Rice for three games, fined him $75,000 and ordered him to attend anger management classes. Eric Murdock, who was the director of player development at the time and made the video and complaint, did not have his contract renewed and has said he will seek damages in a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Pernetti said in his statement that he wished he had fired Rice.
“As you know, my first instincts when I saw the videotape of Coach Rice’s behavior was to fire him immediately,” the statement said. “However, Rutgers decided to follow a process involving university lawyers, human resources professionals, and outside counsel. Following review of the independent investigative report, the consensus was that university policy would not justify dismissal. I have admitted my role in, and regret for, that decision, and wish that I had the opportunity to go back and override it for the sake of everyone involved.
“I trust that my tenure at Rutgers will not be judged by this one incident. I am proud of my efforts to lead Rutgers into the Big Ten, and of all of the accomplishments of our student-athletes in the classroom and on the field of play.”
While many faculty and lawmakers have spent the last two days calling for the ouster of Pernetti and Barchi, current and former Rutgers athletes have shown support for Rice and Pernetti.
“I feel if people had a chance to see the other portions of practice, or had been at practice, their judgment would not be as severe,” Austin Johnson, a sophomore forward, said Thursday in an interview with the Associated Press. “I am not saying what he did wasn’t wrong, because I do believe it was wrong. But it is also tough because it was a highlight reel of his worst moments.”
Former football players such as Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens running back, and Eric LeGrand, a defensive tackled who was paralyzed in 2010, have come out in support of Pernetti.
LeGrand said via Twitter: “Heading up to RU in support of Tim Pernetti to talk to some media. #KeepTimPernetti the things this man has done for me is indescribable.”
Pernetti, who played tight end at Rutgers from 1989 to ’93, was hired as athletic director in 2009.