WAYNE, N.J. – A Division III basketball team forfeited a conference game Tuesday night to protest the firing of its coach, dressing and warming up before collectively walking off the court as the game was about to begin.
William Paterson forfeited against Ramapo College in support of longtime coach Jose Rebimbas, who was in his 21st season.
Rebimbas, the school's leader in coaching wins with 384, declined comment on Wednesday, saying he would comment later. He said on Facebook on Sunday that he was fired because of a misunderstanding over facility rental fees for a camp he runs.
"The university has unfairly and illegally taken my right to coach and mentor the student-athletes I love," Rebimbas said. "I am prepared to fight the actions of William Paterson University and restore my good name and that of the program."
Athletic spokeswoman Heather Brocious said the school doesn't discuss matters regarding employees.
"The students have a right to express their opinions," she said. "The men's basketball team chose to do so by forfeiting the game against Ramapo College."
Ramapo coach Chuck McBreen said he was stunned by the protest.
"We came out on the floor, ready to go and it looked like they were ready to go," McBreen said. "We came back to the bench to get ready for the introductions and they took off their shooting shirts, threw them on the floor and walked off the court."
McBreen said his team packed up its belongings and left the gym.
"I left there with a numb feeling, like I was in shock," McBreen said.
Terry Small, commissioner of the New Jersey Athletic Conference, said he's not sure how the conference will proceed. He said he contacted the NCAA and the association doesn't acknowledge forfeits.
"It's uncharted territory," Small said. "I know we do have a conference policy towards forfeits, but nothing like this."
McBreen said his team was excited to play a big rivalry game.
"It's like someone knocked the wind out of our sails before we even started," he said. "There's no euphoria in getting this as a win."
A person familiar with the dispute told the AP that Rebimbas was fired after a loss Saturday night to Brooklyn College because he did not promptly pay the university fees pledged by high schools for the camp. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the situation.
The Pioneers went 21-8 last season, making their ninth trip to the NCAA Division III tournament under Rebimbas. The Pioneers have won 20 games or more nine times in Rebimbas' tenure and won the NJAC championship six times. They advanced to the NCAA Division III Final Four semifinals in 1999 and the title game in 2001.