EDITORIAL

Rutgers athletics subsidy an embarrassment


February 2, 2015

Remember those claims from Rutgers University officials that the school's entrance to the Big Ten will be the salvation of the athletic department? That Rutgers sports will no longer need so much money from the rest of the school just to pay the bills?

Well, let's just keep hoping that will someday be true because the good graces of the Big Ten aren't kicking in just yet. In fiscal 2014 Rutgers continued to soak school coffers for more than $36 million in subsidies, the second-highest amount in school history and undoubtedly once again among the very highest among Division I schools.

The "good" news — and we use that term very charitably — is that the 2014 figure represents an improvement of sorts from the whopping $47 million that Rutgers sports needed in fiscal 2013. That figure was bloated by some significant one-time expenses largely related to the player-abuse scandals that sacked former head basketball coach Mike Rice and former athletic director Tim Pernetti. But the University of Nevada-Las Vegas was the only other school with subsidies above $29 million that same year.

But don't worry, Rutgers' leaders tell us. It's all just a matter of time. The goal is merely to progressively bring those subsidies down to zero by the time Rutgers is a full participant in Big Ten money distribution in 2021. The fiscal 2014 numbers were themselves bloated by one-time costs connected to Rutgers' exit penalty to leave the American Athletic Conference. Meanwhile more revenue is supposed to continue to come pouring in as the school takes on more of that Big Ten sheen and does battle with some of the top sports schools in the country.

Maybe they will be proven right. But the philosophy of Rutgers officials in addressing this ongoing financial embarrassment continues to be disturbing. They sound like careless tax-and-spend Democrats who don't even pretend to advise more responsible spending. "The answer is going to be generating more revenue," said Janine Purcaro, chief financial officer for Rutgers athletics.

That comment fits snugly with Athletic Director Julie Hermann's past explanations that Rutgers will have to spend, spend, spend to build their program to keep up with the Big Ten. So Rutgers sports is still $36 million in the red, and yet there's no room to meaningfully cut costs? That's not even on the table? Everything has to be focused on improving facilities and expanding capacity and shelling out more and money to coaches, forever chasing the dream of the Big Ten jackpot?

Isn't there just a bit of wishful thinking in all of this? And what happens if those subsidies don't start to drop because the athletics department is spending too much? Will school leaders tell us the answer is to spend even more, so it can really compete with the Michigans and Ohio States and Penn States?

For years the Rutgers athletics department has spent far beyond its means, requiring enormous annual subsidies from the school and through student fees. The Big Ten, presumably, will increase those means. But if officials continue to be as irresponsible as in the past, why would those increased means suddenly be enough to make Rutgers athletics self-sufficient, especially if the mantra continues to be spend, spend, spend?

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