by Tim Joyce
Salt Lake City, Utah, and Piscataway, New Jersey, are worlds apart, geographically and culturally. Yet the two locales are now bound together, as each community deals with crises of coaching abuse at the University of Utah and Rutgers University.
The parallels are abundantly clear in the stories of Utah swim coach Greg Winslow and Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice. Both abused their positions at Division 1 schools. Both were shielded by university administrations that ignored the problems for an extended period of time, before “thorough investigations” resulted in minimal penalties. Both are engaged in mad scrambles for damage control as the abusive conduct becomes public.
The most important similarity is the one that cuts to the core of what college sports is all about: money. Both schools had recently made giant strides in stepping up in conference prestige, with Utah moving to the Pac 12 and Rutgers about to gain entry into the Big Ten. In each case, largely of the influence and resourcefulness of the athletic director.
But there is one telling difference. At Rutgers, athletic director Tim Pernetti resigned his position within days of the abuse becoming known to the general public. At Utah, Chris Hill shows no signs of willingness to step aside.
By now, nearly every sports fan in the country is aware of the Rutgers abuse, mainly because it was captured on video.
But aside from those in Utah and Arizona, very few are aware of the abuse perpetrated by Greg Winslow, the former swim coach at Utah.
And make no mistake – while any abuse is terrible and a zero tolerance policy towards any abuse should be the rule, the level of abuse committed by Winslow far surpasses that of Rice.
As has been documented in detail here, during Winslow’s horrific coaching regime there were incidents of athletes fainting under water, serious accidents that were never reported, and sadistic training practices that were both physically dangerous and emotionally humiliating.
Additionally, there were scores of complaints leveled against Winslow by parents, swimmers, and others. Utah higher-upd had more than enough information in the fall of 2012 to get rid of Winslow. But they didn’t. Before the Utes would act, It took the exposure of charges against Winslow of sexual abuse stemming from his former coaching stint on the campus of Arizona State University.
When Pernetti exited the university, he made it known, in a bitter missive, that he wanted to fire Rice back in the fall but the university officials – lawyers and others – felt it was best to contain the situation and opted for a monetary punishment. Within hours this past week, the university reversed itself and fired Rice immediately. (Don’t feel too sorry for Rice as he pockets at least $1 million in his severence package.)
While Pernetti is easily believed on this point, that still doesn’t absolve him of any responsibility. For if he was so outraged by a rogue coach, a coach that Pernetti had personally hired, then he should have resigned back in the fall when Rice’s behavior became known to the entire Rutgers senior administration. But the principled resignation is sadly absent from American society at this point.
Pernetti still did the right thing by walking away. Which is a lot more than can be said of Chris Hill. And consider – as far as we know, Pernetti wasn’t bombarded by years of documented complaints about his coach. Yet Chris Hill has known details of specific abusive incidents related to Winslow for several years.
The entrenched Hill is apparently so arrogant that he believes he is above the actions of those he hires, that the allegations that have already been proven aren’t serious enough to ensure his departure.
And this isn’t just cluelessness on Hill’s behalf. He must somehow feel supremely confident that Utah’s president, David Pershing, will not take an aggressive stance and force Hill to leave.
Pershing brings up another analogy between Utah and Rutgers. Like his counterpart at Rutgers, president Robert Barchi, Pershing took office as the crisis in the athletic department was just starting to boil. And both men should be held accountable. After all, Pershing includes Hill as a “special assistant,” and Barchi has been front and center parading Rutgers’ imminent move to the Big Ten.
Bottom line: If Pernetti exited, so should Hill. No … change that. Throw all the bums out – Hill, Pershing, and Barchi.