It is no secret that sports play a significant role in the United States’ current society. Every year, the total revenue generated by sports increases drastically, as this industry represents one of the fastest growing markets in the world. A recent report by Forbes estimated that the North American sports market was worth $60.5 billion in 2014, and is estimated to arrive at a whopping $73.5 billion by the year 2019. It is expected that approximately $20.6 billion of this total will come from sports media rights, therefore expanding the coverage and importance of media with sporting events and teams. This suggests that the business side of sports is crucial to the success of a particular sports organization, from the performance of coaches and athletes up to the team’s promotional strategies. Given this fact, every action that occurs within the organization has the potential to create either a positive or negative impact on its overall image.
Rutgers University men’s basketball coach Mike Rice is a prominent example of how a negative internal environment can harm a sports organization’s reputation. In April of 2013, Rice was fired after a video surfaced on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines”, which showed him shoving and throwing basketballs at players during a team practice. He also included multiple gay slurs in his dialogue toward his players, which ultimately sparked widespread controversy around the nation. This language-censored video can be seen here, but take caution as viewer discretion is advised.
The practice tapes were first shown to Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti in November 2012, which led him to suspend Coach Rice for three games, fine him $50,000, and enroll him in anger management classes. Once the footage finally became public, however, the university faced heavy fire from fans, parents, and even LGBTQ equal rights groups. This left Tim Pernetti no option but to fire Rice from the position completely, despite still having two years left on his five-year head coaching contract. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shared his thoughts on the situation as well, issuing this statement to the public: “Parents entrust their sons to the Rutgers athletic department and the men’s basketball program at an incredibly formative period of their lives. The way these young men were treated by the head coach was completely unacceptable and violates the trust parents put in Rutgers. All of the student-athletes entrusted to our care deserve much better.” Mike Rice’s inappropriate actions amplified an already growing disapproval from fans, as the team went 44-51 under his leadership, including compiling an underwhelming 17-39 record in Big East Conference play.
Despite the fact that Rice’s actions were his own, the effects of those actions stretch far beyond himself. One example of this can be found in Derrick Randall, a former player under Coach Rice who filed a lawsuit against him in December of 2013. In addition to Rice, Randall also cited the university, Rutgers president Robert Barchi, athletic director Tim Pernetti, and three others as defendants in the case. Also after Rice’s firing, four players from the Scarlet Knights basketball team transferred to another school, including top 25 recruit Eli Carter. Three more players were lost after Eddie Jordan took the helm for the 2013-2014, providing further evidence of the players’ lack of desire to remain in the crumbling program. It is clear that Rutgers University is now faced with lasting backlash from the incident, thus unfortunately impairing the prestige of the men’s basketball program, the athletic department, and the school altogether. A conscious effort must be made by Rutgers University and its basketball program to restore its credibility and erase its tainted past. It may be a long and difficult rebuilding process, but it is important to remember that most good things take time.