Big Ten, big bucks and big outrage
Short term costs of athletic spending will be worth it for future of U.
Almost everyone’s favorite thing to complain about at Rutgers is its money-sucking Athletic Department, and usually it’s not without good reason. Among some of the recent improvements Athletic Director Julie Hermann listed for High Point Solutions Stadium were better cell phone reception, additional bathrooms and a widened concourse. Meanwhile, funding is being slashed from almost every academic department, faculty and staff members are still fighting for fair employee contracts and tuition is climbing to increasingly unaffordable rates even for in-state students.
It might be a bit of an understatement to say that a lot of people are outraged.
A new report presented by Hermann last week at a Board of Trustees meeting shows where our Athletic Department currently stands financially, including spending and revenue projections for 2015. According to the report, the revenue from the 2014 year is projected to be $35.6 million, with an additional $28.5 million subsidy needed to cover the remaining costs for the total $64.1 million budget. This subsidy will include a substantial amount coming from the University, with $19 million from the operations budget and $9.5 million in student fees. In 2015, the budget is expected to increase along with revenue — but there is also expected to be a $1 million increase in student fees to help cover the costs.
So here’s the $64.1 million question: Is the ever-increasing spending on athletics (even with the additional expected revenue) going to be worth it as a good investment for the University, or is it just costing us way too much in the short term?
As difficult as it might be to see why at this point in time, we still think that the short answer to that question is that it will be worth it.
Rutgers actually ranks last right now in terms of athletic spending behind other Big Ten schools. For example, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State are among some of the schools that are listed at or above the $100 million expenditure threshold. We’re not saying that this justifies the exorbitant amount of money that is spent on athletics — we could write an entire editorial about the problems with the whole culture itself of “sports schools” (and actually, maybe we will). There’s an unfortunate emphasis that higher education places on athletics over academic achievements, mostly because there’s clearly a lot of money to be made from athletics. The numbers speak for themselves — Rutgers’ projected athletic revenue for next year alone is $41.5 million. But whatever your opinion might be on the whole sports culture, this is how big state schools like Rutgers can create the revenue they need to run stronger institutions.
The good news is, the Athletic Department is predicted to become completely financially independent in the next six years. And once that happens, if the University follows through on its proposed plans to become a stronger and more well-rounded school, the benefits for Rutgers as a whole will be undeniable. New Jersey currently has the highest rate of students leaving the state for college in the entire country, and this brain drain has a lot to do with the fact that a lot of high school students just don’t think of Rutgers as anything special. As superficial as it might seem, putting the resources into improving Rutgers’ surface appeal now could help keep students in the state. And once we start making more of a name for ourselves in the Big Ten and breakeven with the increased athletics budget, all that revenue will start coming right back into the academic and research departments that actually need it. It’s important to be aware of athletic spending and hold officials accountable for every promise they make for every dollar they spend — and for now, we’ll be waiting to see what should be a valuable return on this investment.