Collateral damage is formally defined as “inadvertent casualties and destruction in civilian areas in the course of military operations” but the notion can more loosely, and easily, be applied to the daily operations of the NCAA and its member athletic departments, where so often money is pursued at the risk of all others who happen to directly or indirectly stand in the way of that pursuit. The Rutgers Scarlet Knights firing of head basketball coach Mike Rice, and the short-term decision to allow Athletic Director Tim Pernetti to keep his job is a glowing example of the concept.
The stated reason that Pernetti has yet to be fired is that he was essential in helping Rutgers secure a home in the Big Ten Conference starting with the upcoming football season, and, you guessed it, welcomed a substantial financial windfall to the University in the process. Placing importance on his ability to “close deals” quickly subjugates the fact that he chose not to fire Mike Rice three months ago when evidence of his verbal and physical abuse of players on the Rutgers basketball team first came to his attention.
Worship of money and fiscal opportunity creates collateral damage. That damage? The health and safety of Rutgers basketball players– and often, in general, NCAA student-athletes.
To be fair, not everyone at Rutgers is in on the charade given reports this morning that enraged faculty and students across the campus are calling for the firing not only of Peretti, but also of university president Robert Barchi, who’s hands were absolutely tied given the media attention the school received, and who had no choice but to fire Mike Rice.
As a corollary, there’s a concept in sports management and legal research called the “deep pockets” theory. The deep pockets theory notes when there is malfeasance within an athletic department the buck stops at the very top, and should the parties who are wronged decide to take the matter to court — which it would be perfectly reasonable for some of the players and their families to do in coming months — they will be certain to include the highest-ranking member of an organization in that lawsuit — in this case, Barchi, and possibly even the school’s Board of Regents.
If Rutgers values the public relations image of their university, Robert Barchi will resign immediately and give the school’s Board of Regents and opportunity to save as much face as they possibly can, not only in the media, but also with an alumni base who is another source of collateral damage.
If what has happened at Rutgers was an isolated incident in which an overzealous coach crossed the line, and an Athletic Director was placed on a pedestal because of his ability to fundraise, I wouldn’t have a greater concern for the future of collegiate sports. The fact is, this same scenario plays out with staggering consistency on campuses across the country as the blind worship of the almighty dollar continues at the expense of the collateral damage it causes, more often than not, to those whom the money is generated by — the athletes.
Until the value of these athletes as people and not money-making, interchangeable parts becomes the norm, the dollar will still be a deity and the NCAA will continue to tiptoe through murky waters, simply staying alive due to their own weight.
Due to being too big to fail.