Lessons From Rutgers

Mike RiceIf it was called Rutgers Basketball Academy instead of Rutgers University, they might be filing for bankruptcy right now. Lucky for them that basketball is only a small part of the total university program.

The recent airing of a YOUTube video showing Mike Rice, the men’s basketball coach, shoving players, throwing basketballs at them, and unleashing verbal assaults with homophobic slurs contains some important lessons for all of us about Values, Brands, and the interwoven relationship between the two.

Tim Pernetti, the athletic director knew about the incidents since November 2012. He decided, according to his comments on television, that rehabilitation was the best approach to take with Coach Rice and that he (the coach) would not be fired, but rather “saved” by the power of a fine, a 3-game suspension, and some anger management classes. How noble. Does Tim Pernetti, not know about the Catholic Church scandal?

Based on what I’ve heard and read about this sordid mess, it appears that no part of the investigation, assessment and the decision made by Tim Pernetti and/or other Rutgers Administration officials (including the university president) involved anyone sitting down and looking at what the university’s Values should have guided them to do.

So it seems that Rutgers stated Values have shifted based on the perceived “practical” needs of the university and its basketball program. I believe there are some dollar signs embedded in the definition of “practical.” We value Integrity was replaced with, “We value the sanctity and financial soundness of the program above any personal indignities and abuses.”

The media brought it all to light, Rutgers caved and fired Mike Rice, the coach. Now everyone else is scrambling to cover his or her ass. It’s too common a story. What are its lessons?

  • Lesson 1: When you abandon your Values in favor of some new ones that are “situational” to the crisis at hand, you are playing with a live grenade. You tarnish, perhaps even destroy your Brand. As I said at the outset, if Rutgers’ only product was basketball, they might be going out of business.
  •  Lesson 2: When the cat is out of the bag and it’s time to come clean, become transparent and come completely clean. I don’t think Rutgers has done that yet. Time will tell.
  •  Lesson 3: Revisit your Values regularly, daily if need be. Make certain you live them all the time. Make the tough choices and the difficult decisions early on. The longer dirty laundry hides in the closet, the smellier it gets. It never gets clean and it never goes away.
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