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Ouster of Rutgers coach, athletic director highlights risks for universities

April 5, 2013

Bob Wallace
Bob Wallace

With the NCAA Championship Game in Atlanta on April 8, college basketball will wrap up a March fraught with even more madness than usual — no more so than with the very public ouster this week of Rutgers head basketball coach Mike Rice and athletic director Tim Pernetti.

The swift fallout for the New Jersey university’s athletic department and administration, including its president, highlights the potential risks universities face with respect to their coaches. In a checklist released earlier this year, Bob Wallace, the chair of Thompson Coburn’s Sports Law Group, offered concrete tips for higher education attorneys and athletic directors on how they can mitigate the potential negative effects of a powerful individual coach. 

“As I’ve said in the past, the unchecked power of certain coaches and athletic programs can cause serious problems for athletic departments and university leaders,” Wallace says. “It happened at Penn State, it’s happening at Rutgers, and I can promise you it will continue to happen until universities pursue more robust compliance programs.”

Wallace’s checklist urges university officials to take a close look at coach contracts, compliance protocols, and all written policies.

“All coaches and universities want to their coaches to succeed,” he writes. “But if that success comes at the expense of an institution’s reputation or its financial future, the effects can be devastating."