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.


rurugby said...

As a Rutgers alum .. I applaud the success of the football team (who was god awful when I was there from 1994-1998) ...

But there really was no reason to close the other sports off.

Fencing was unbelievably cheap (1 coach for 2 teams) .. Crew was largely supported by private monies ... and Swimming has a beautiful facility, the Sonny Werblin Center that was largely paid for by a VERY generous alum.

I would have much rather seen AD Mulcahy hire an assistant for Olympic Sports and spend all his time on football, his primary interest.

Anonymous said...

Everytime the Rutgers athletic department states - wihtout equivocation - that these cuts have NOTHING to do with money, someone pipes in that fencing is inexpensive to host, or that they already have the pool for the swimmers... this is NOT about money in the conventional sense of budget line items; it's about endowment. There's a difference between funding sports and funding sports for success. When you compare the Rutgers endowment to that of the other schools that carry 30 varsity teams, the numbers aren't even close. This is not a matter of raising enough money to sustain these teams for a year or of living through a temporary budget crisis; this is a matter of becoming synonymous with excellence on the athletic field - and, frankly, Rutgers Crew was as mediocre as its football team for the past 20 years, and even if Rutgers managed to win the Sprints and the IRAs for a decade straight, I don't think that anyone was going to see any of the races on ESPN.

The time to save these sports was 20 years ago, when Rutgers decided to become a D-IA program. Teams like fencing and crew have been living on borrowed time ever since.

Bob Mulcahy has done more for Rutgers Athletics in a decade than Fred Grininger did in the two decades prior, and I am NOT talking about the football team. He - personally - endows a women's athletic scholarship at Rutgers, and cares - to the best of my knowledge - about all of his student athletes, equally. The same can NOT be said for his predecessor.

Anonymous said...

Bob Mulcahy elimnated teams with almost 100 years of history. How in the world can the administration borrow 80 million or more to enlarge the football stadium but turn around and say you cannot have a men's tennis team with a scholarship budget of $29,500.00. It is amazing how many people have been so turned off my Mr. Mulcahy and Sen. Codey for his backing of the nonsense. The athletic program will implode because of Mr. Mulcahy's vision. Maryland has a motto 24 sports and one team. Rutgers motto is now 24 teams but one sport.