Today's announcement that Rutgers University will commission an independent adviser to investigate the way the school handled the firing of the men's basketball head coach, Mike Rice, could be the first step in rebuilding the school's reputation, according to one sports law expert.
Rutgers president Dr. Robert Barchi and chair of the board of governors Ralph Izzo announced an investigation would look into the "circumstances surrounding the men's basketball program as well as the procedures used to investigate allegations" brought up against Rice.
Kenneth L. Shropshire, a sports and business attorney with Duane Morris LLP and professor of sports law at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said the key will be to focus the investigation on moving forward.
"It will depend a lot on how the independent investigation is characterized," Shropshire said. "I think it's important, at this point, to frame it in terms of the appropriate steps we will take … because clearly some things have gone wrong, as opposed to what they were able to do back in November."
In a Monday morning press conference – his first since the scandal broke – Gov. Chris Christie said Barchi made a mistake by not viewing the videotape sooner, but he said that mistake was not a fireable offense. The governor said leaders of large organizations need to delegate.
“He relied upon the people who worked for him and who were most expert in this topic – his lawyer and the athletic director – to make the recommendation,” Christie said. “They made it. He empowered them to execute on the decision, and when he became convinced that their judgment was wrong, he took appropriate action to make sure that they were no longer in a position to be able to make those kinds of decisions.”
Christie acknowledged that Rutgers’ reputation has been significantly damaged by the scandal, but the governor suggested that the problems are now in the past.
“This is a stain on Rutgers’ past; no question about it,” he said. “My job is to make sure that that is taken care of, which I think it was.”
Shropshire said framing the investigation as proactive will help in the public relations crisis management of the situation.
Shropshire added that the message around the investigation should be "this is a necessary step we are taking so we will be clear on how we will combat these issues if they occur in the future. Some framing that is more positive than the classic 'We're doing a study, we'll get back to you when it's done.'"
Shropshire said the issues surrounding who knew what and when in relation to the abuse allegations against Rice "is a classic leadership dilemma. I'm sure Dr. Barchi has the basic leadership principle of hire the right people and let them do their jobs."
"In the press conference, when (Barchi) said he did not look at the video until last week or whenever it was, not to probe that specific statement, but the concept is that he would have let his leaders in those places give him guidance on what to do and that is the ideal," he added.
Fall out from the firing of Rice, and the subsequent resignation of athletic director Tim Pernetti, may have long-term consequences on the university's athletics program. In addition to moving to the Big Ten Conference without an athletic director, concerns have been expressed about the naming rights of the football stadium, as well as delays in the renovations being planned for the RAC, as reported in Grapevine.
Contributing: Staff writer Jared Kaltwasser