Friday, August 10, 2007

Rutgers Slashes Olympic Sports to "Feed the Beast"

My friend, Tom Darling, just circulated today's Wall Street Journal article by Skip Rozin, which reported that Rutgers University (and its board of governors) will be increasing tuition by 7.8% to offset a reduction in monies from the State of New Jersey, but that the increase will not be enough to restore six varsity programs which were cut by Rutgers, being men's swimming and diving, and tennis, men's and women's fencing, and men's lightweight and heavyweight crew.

The irony is two-fold. First, many of the best athletes from Rutgers have gone on to represent the US at the Olympics and on national teams in the sport of rowing. The fencing program also attracts some of the best high-school fencers in the country (mostly from New Jersey). Second, the football team, which indeed had a terrific record this year (11-2), suffered no cutbacks. In fact, coach Greg Schiano's compensation was raised nearly 50% to 1.5 million dollars (and Vivian Stringer, the women's basketball coach, saw her compensation dramatically increase to nearly $975,ooo.)

The Rutgers football program currently runs at a loss. However, athletic director, Bob Mulcahy, stated that the extra money towards football had nothing to do with the elimination of the other varsity sports. "Football is a separate issue -- I look at it differently from the rest of the sports. It raises far more money, and ultimately the success of football can carry the rest of our programs." As Skip Rozin notes, claiming that football can carry an athletic department (or that it truly makes money) is often a specious argument. The NCAA reports that nearly 80% of all collegiate football programs lose money - and Rutgers football is currently in that bottom 80%.

"When you read accounts about the revenue that football generates, they're really full of holes, ignoring capital expenditures and debt financing," says James Duderstadt, president of the University of Michigan from 1988 to 1996. "I think people close to Michigan, with all of its visibility, regard football at this level as more of a headache than a benefit to the institution. We've seen more institutions going heavily into debt to pay coaches over a million dollars, and more programs eliminated in order to feed the beast."

Cutting men's sports (or any sport) at the behest of football is short-sighted. If I remember correctly, a giving report showed that cross-country runners and rowers gave more to their college endowments than other athletes. More importantly, eliminating teams robs student-athletes of the opportunity to learn the lessons of sport, which can then make them into more productive citizens, coaches, teachers and parents after they graduate.

Last I checked, colleges were in the business of creating and educating a future generation of leaders, imbuing them with the opportunity to learn life-long lessons. They are not in the business of sending students to the NFL or NBA or the Olympics, for that matter. Any student who wants to play a varsity sport ought to have that opportunity, period. Including anyone who wants to play football.

However, it doesn't mean that they all get to eat steak and have a disproportionate number of scholarships and multiple coaches to support a roster of 151 players - especially when the NFL can get by with far fewer players. 53 to be exact.