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EDITORIAL: Rutgers football team stuck in limbo

Desires former glory, but funding lacks

Back in November 1869, Rutgers faced cross-state rival Princeton University in the first-ever collegiate football game. 

The rules were much different from how they currently stand, with the game being closer to rugby than modern football. Still, it was the start of something new, eloquently described by a Rutgers player as “replete with surprise, strategy, prodigies of determination and physical prowess.”

Better yet, Rutgers won college football’s debut by a score of 6 to 4. For a short time, Rutgers was college football's winningest team.

It seems as though the current administrators of the University are nostalgic for that era. In the 2017 University fiscal year, $27.7 million was allocated for football, and in 2018, $26.87 million. 

Unfortunately, the athletics program has neither been making that money back nor getting remotely near doing so. The football program brought in $19.5 million and $11.77 million in 2017 and 2018, respectively. 

The massive spending can be traced back to the University’s decision to join the Big Ten conference. This was in 2014, shortly after the Big East conference folded and left Rutgers looking for a new home. 

Teams in the Big Ten receive a dividend from the conference each year, though membership must be continuous in order to get the full amount. For instance, Rutgers will not be eligible for the full dividend until 2022, since it did not join the conference until 2014.

Rutgers clearly would like to join — or at least be in the conversation with — the top echelon of college football teams, a message the school has sent clearly by joining the Big Ten and continually spending small fortunes on their football program. But this spending is still dwarfed by more accomplished programs in the conference.

Ohio State University, a fellow Big Ten school, spent $37.38 million on its football program in 2016. By contrast, it managed to earn a massive $86.65 million in revenue, rendering its spending profitable. 

Pennsylvania State University, also in the Big Ten, spent $45.2 million in 2017-18, compared to a staggering $100 million in revenue.

Percentage-wise, Rutgers spent 142% of its football revenue in 2017 and 228% in 2018. Ohio State spent 43% in 2016, while Penn State spent 45% in 2017.

Both these schools outspend Rutgers by decent amounts, but make astronomically more money through their football programs. The evidence is there: Investing in football pays in a serious way.

It may seem absurd to spend the amounts that Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University do, but when scaled down to a per-win basis, Rutgers ends up footing the larger bill. 

For example, Rutgers went 4-8 in 2017, spending $6.93 million per win. In 2018, Rutgers went 1-11, spending $26.87 million per win. In contrast, the 2016 Ohio State University football team went 11-2, spending $3.4 million per win, while 2017 Pennsylvania State University went 12-2, spending $4.11 million per win. Clearly, Rutgers is paying a steeper bill when program success is factored in.

Attendance numbers further the point that spending equates to both financial and on-field success. Pennsylvania State University averaged 105,485 attendees for its home games last season, good for second highest in the nation. Ohio State University trailed shallowly behind, with an average attendance of 101,947, earning them the third-highest attendance in the nation.

Rutgers averaged 37,799, placing them at the 58th best mark in the country. 

SHI Stadium, Rutgers’ home turf, only boasts a capacity of 52,454, so expecting the stratospheric attendance that Pennsylvania State University and Ohio State University enjoy is unreasonable. But this also begs the question of why our stadium does not have a higher capacity, and the easy answer: We do not have enough fans to make renovations necessary. 

It would be easy to say that Rutgers students are simply apathetic, and that even with a solid football team, we would not attend games and support the program. This is not true. The campus has shown that it can and will rally behind successful sports teams, such as the basketball team.

A March press release from the men’s basketball team highlighted the fact that the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) had been sold out five times throughout the season.

“It marks the fifth sell-out of the season for RU, after capacity crowds watched the Scarlet Knights battle No. 8 Michigan State (Nov. 30), Maryland (Jan. 5), No. 7 Michigan (Feb. 5) and No. 21/17 Iowa (Feb. 16),” the release stated.

The release also went into the success of the program under current men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell.

“Rutgers has experienced ticket growth each season under the leadership of head coach Steve Pikiell. Season ticket sales have increased 7% over 2017-18 and average attendance through 16 games has improved 28.8% from last year,” according to the release.

The basketball program — in conjunction with other athletic teams — opened a new training facility recently this year, as reported by The Daily Targum. 

"Rutgers Athletics unveiled its new RWJBarnabas Health Athletic Performance facility yesterday. The building will serve as a recruitment tool intended to compete with top-performing Big Ten programs, as it has expansive practice areas for men’s and women’s basketball, wrestling and gymnastics, as well as coach and student athlete offices and locker rooms and sports medicine clinical care centers," the article stated.

Additionally, the new facility also cost $115 million to complete. By contrast, the football team was forced to use donations in order to fund a $4 million locker room.

All that goes to show is that the campus does support successful sports teams, and that successful teams are afforded the opportunity of expansion. The one qualifier there is “successful,” which the football team has not been. 

Overall, Rutgers Athletics must energize the student body by hiring a football coach with the exuberance of Pikiell, and the student body — should it desire a strong football program — must support the school financially and in spirit by buying up tickets and attending games.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff

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