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DUNLEVY: While Rutgers football falters, investment still of importance

Column: Tempus Fugit

As another disappointing Rutgers football season approaches its close, the football program is again left in a state of flux and transition, and the student body is again left disappointed and bored.  

It should come as no surprise, looking at the results of the past few seasons, particularly as recent memory is the only frame of reference most Rutgers students have in regard to football, that, even in the face of suffering public interest, student interest is exceptionally low.  

Glance at the student section at your average football game, and see a mere handful of dedicated viewers, a number that diminishes as the game progresses. Owing to this pronounced lack of interest, particular proposals are known to arise, on occasion: “Why do they pour so much money into this suffering program?”  

A number of individuals, inclined toward this point of view, will advocate for apportioning this major funding toward academic programs and affairs instead. This mindset is, though well-intended, misguided and short-sighted.

This is an unrealistic course of action because a massive proportion of the funds used to the benefit of the athletic program — not football alone, in many cases — is donated expressly to these purposes. A number of wealthy donors have been very kind to the program, and are — it seems fair to say based upon their financial commitments — very dedicated to the development and growth of the Rutgers football program.  

Donations earmarked for a particular program, donated with the intent of benefiting a particular program, absolutely must be used for that purpose — there is no other option. Anything else is an unspeakable blemish on the integrity of the University. Extremely generous donations are something to be thankful for, and this matter cannot rightly be considered otherwise — one cannot be critical of a donation made in good faith.

Likewise, even in the face of financial difficulty, and even as ticket sales diminish, the football program offers a number of somewhat less tangible benefits to the University. College athletics, of which football is without a doubt the crown jewel, are vitally important in cultivating a presence in the state – academic outreach also helps to work to these ends, but a multifaceted approach helps to ensure the perception of the University as a real and important entity to the general population.

The role that sports plays in mobilizing alumni interest is more important. Particularly as state funding falls, other revenue sources become of greater and greater significance, and alumni interested in and connected to their alma mater are substantially more likely to contribute funding, not only to athletic programs but also to the University as a whole and to an abundance of programs.

By far, the most effective way to mobilize alumni is to have an athletic presence. It is something people can become emotionally invested in, watch, develop and become a part of.  

While it is impossible to measure the degree to which this approach has been effective, it is doubtlessly the most successful mode of outreach the University has. This adds a further level of depth to discussions regarding the role of the football program within the structure of the University. It becomes very difficult to gauge matters, particularly along financial lines, when there is a major intangible benefit that must be considered.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for continued investment in the Rutgers football program is the significant profit that could be reaped should the ambitions at hand pan out. I am neither qualified nor inclined to comment on the precise process through which this vision can best be pursued, but that so many resources have been directed to this matter thus far indicates to me that it is, at the very least, a realistic goal. These resources would not have been allocated in the first place if the professional opinion were that the end goal is not possible.  

The financial benefit, as well as the benefit to the University in other more general respects, can justify major investment if a successful team saw a return to the student interest the program enjoyed some years ago. 

As such, while it is certainly true that none need feel an obligation to pay attention to something they have no interest in, it is blatantly disingenuous to discuss the athletic program in a context that only considers the recent difficulties, and individuals must instead consider the situation in a wider frame.

Ash C. Dunlevy is a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior majoring in plant science, agriculture and food systems. His column, "Tempus Fugit," runs on alternate Mondays.


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