The complete bumbling of the Mike Rice scandal by Rutgers university officials is being compared to the Penn State fiasco – not the severity of the incidents or injuries certainly, but rather the reaction to them – leaving some observers to wonder how this could happen, again and again, at our colleges and universities.
The answer shouldn’t come as a surprise. The institution of higher education is poorly equipped to monitor and manage what is in fact a professional sports enterprise, artificially wrapped in the veil of education and amateurism.
A college president, frequently a Ph.D. trained as a scientist or researcher in English, history, or philosophy, is tasked with overseeing an operation that bears little resemblance to any other activity on campus. In what other organization is someone who is so unprepared and ill-equipped for the role forced to oversee an operation that in some cases generates more than $100 million in annual revenue, has employees who earn multiples of their own salary, fills 100,000-seat stadiums, and is the public face of the entity, albeit far removed from the main purpose of its existence?
The only way things will really change is if we recognize college athletics for what it is, professional sports in disguise.
By now, most Americans know about the tape of fired Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice kicking his players, hurling basketballs at them from point-blank range and bombarding them with homophobic slurs during a team practice. Rice, who apologized publicly for his actions, claims he was merely trying to “motivate” his players.
A number of coaches and commentators have said there’s a fine line between motivation and Rice’s outrageous conduct. They either haven’t watched the video or they’re myopic. What he did would be considered a crime if it occurred between anyone but a coach and one of his student-athletes.
After Rutgers’ officials learned of the tape last November, Rice was suspended for three games. That suspension is an insult to every student-athlete.