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Termination of Rutgers basketball coach highlights importance of employment advice to athletic departments

By Tyrone P. Thomas

Rutgers University announced its termination of the employment of men’s basketball coach Mike Rice.  The firing occurred after a media frenzy from the release of video of practices in which Mr. Rice was observed shoving players, throwing balls at them, and using gay slurs.  Part of the controversy facing the University arises from the athletic director’s decision to suspend Mr. Rice for three games and fine him $75,000 after investigating Mr. Rice’s conduct, as opposed to stronger disciplinary measures such as termination.

The University faces many questions from the New Jersey legislature, alumni, donors, and its students.  A retaliation claim by an alleged whistleblower has been reported, in addition to potential legal action by current and former student-athletes.  There is also a high probability of an inquiry by the NCAA into the University’s oversight of the men’s basketball program.

These claims highlight the importance of effective oversight of intercollegiate athletics on a university-wide level that extends beyond the athletics department.   I noted these issues and others in the article, “Protecting Home Field – University-wide coordination in the oversight of athletics” in the November 2012 issue of University Business magazine.  All NCAA member institutions are advised to have their athletics programs independently assessed for potential vulnerabilities with respect to legal compliance, human resource policies, whistleblower protections and best practices for NCAA governance.

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Martha Zackin