Tensions rise as Rutgers Athletics continues quest for financial independence

Leah Mishkin, Correspondent | February 12, 2019 | Sports

Two teams are on the field: academics vs. athletics. What do both want? Priority.

“The Athletics Department has accumulated $193 million of loses, financial loses, deficits, since we joined the Big Ten,” said David Hughes, vice president of the Rutgers University faculty union.

The state’s largest university joined the Big Ten — one of the country’s most prestigious sports conferences — in 2014.

When Rutgers joined the Big Ten, it expected to receive its first full share of Big Ten revenue by 2021. A new report shows the school isn’t expected to receive the full share until 2027 because the university took an advance to help balance the athletic department’s budget.

“I am very grateful to the people who follow our sports teams, and especially to those who give money to our sports teams,” Hughes said. “But they have a notion that the sports teams operate, some way, independently, or even enhance education. That’s not the case at all. Our sports teams suck money that could go to education.”

“That’s exactly what the administration said when we joined the Big East that our ship would come in and athletics would start subsidizing education. It hasn’t happened,” Hughes said.

How do Rutgers’ students feel about it?

“As our university gets stronger within the Big Ten, it’ll all weigh out,” said Rutgers sophomore Michael Giannella.

“Athletics in general, in the collegiate system as a whole, and Rutgers in particular, is by and large a waste of money,” said Rohan Alibutud, a senior at Rutgers.

Rutgers Athletics commissioned consulting firm College Sports Solutions, or CSS, to review the program and offer a plan on how to become more competitive on and off the field.

According to CSS’s analysis, there’s a “strong correlation between the University’s budget and facility deficit and its lack of competitive success.”

Rutgers athletic budget, $93 million, is at the bottom of the list of Big Ten schools. By comparison, Ohio State, at the top of the list, spends $221 million.

The report says in the last few years the school has made “extraordinary progress” in facilities, but it adds that there’s still work to be done.

Athletics Director Pat Hobbs wouldn’t speak with us on camera, but issued a statement saying, “The CSS report provides independent confirmation of the challenges and opportunities before us as we continue the work of transforming Rutgers Athletics into a competitive program.”

The report says by continuing to invest in athletics, there will be big results for the university as a whole. For example, studies have shown after a successful season or even one big televised game, application rates go up the following year.

“We lost $47 million last year in athletics. For that same money, we could have actually made Rutgers more affordable,” Hughes said. “So, again, it’s unconscionable when there’s an available alternative.”

Rutgers Athletics’ communication office says the report highlights a unique opportunity for the school and that it’s the only member of the Big Ten in the largest media market, and it says it will take advantage of all the opportunities that are identified in the report.