Governor Christobel & Rutgers Athletics: An Interview

In November 2010, ARR had an opportunity to ask NJ governor Chris Christobel how he could go on supporting Rutgers' $58 million athletics budget while announcing dramatic cuts in every other area of New Jersey spending.

ARR: Governor Christobel, you're known as someone who's willing to back unpopular measures to restore fiscal sanity to the state of New Jersey.

Gov. Christobel: That's me. Tough. Fearless. A straight talker. With a touch of irreverent wit when talking to reporters. It's a pretty irresistible combination.

ARR: Governor Christobel, there's an $11 billion budget shortfall in New Jersey. To deal with it, you called on public school teachers to take a pay freeze. You asked the teachers' union to contribute 1.5% of their salary toward their own health benefits. When the $1 billion federal stimulus for education dried up, you proposed $820 million in education budget cuts.

Gov. Christobel: (warily) You're against those things?

ARR: No, actually. We regard them as necessary. What we'd like to ask is why you haven't applied the same stringency in your dealings with Rutgers.

Gov. Christobel: Who says I haven't? I slapped Rutgers with a gigantic $97 million budget cut. I hear nothing but yelps of pain from that guy, what's his name, McGormless, about how they have no money. He says the campus is falling apart. Class sizes are increasing. They're firing adjunct faculty and staff. Tuition has gone sky high. Student fees are going up. You don't think that's courageous?

ARR: Governor, we're sorry to have to say we don't. We regard it as moral pusillanimity.

Gov. Christobel: (face getting red) What? Me? Governor Chris Christobel? Mr. tough guy? How can you say that?

ARR: Because, Governor, in hitting Rutgers with a $97 million cut, you didn't dare touch a cent of the $58 million that goes to the athletics department. In particular, you didn't dare touch a cent of the huge $25 million athletics deficit.

Gov. Christobel: (taken aback) Geez. They're running that much in the red?

ARR: They are, Governor Christobel, they are. Rutgers' athletics deficit last year was the largest among NCAA Div IA schools nationally. Worse, over $17 million is coming directly out of university operating funds. More than $7 million is coming out of student fees. Here, take a look:

 Total Rutgers Athletics Budget, 2008-2009:

$58,513,863.00

Direct University Support:

$17,917,867.00

Student Fees:

$7,794,629.00

Direct State/Govt Support:

$20,054.00

TOTAL SUBSIDY:

$25,732,55.00

Gov. Christobel: (attempting to recover his poise) Well, so what? It mainly goes to pay for the football franchise. Look, we had a cost of $2 million a year just to pay the salary of that Schiano guy who used to be here. Add the salary of that basketball coach -- Stringer? -- and it's well over $3 million. What do you want me to do, cut coaches' salaries?

ARR: Yes.

Gov. Christobel: Look, what's three million when you're talking about a $58 million deficit? More than that, in fact. Don't forget the state had to pay $102 million for that stadium expansion the legislature built for Schiano. Are you going to say that never should have been built?

ARR: Yes.

Gov. Christobel: Look, I've talked to people in the Rutgers athletics department. They're biting the bullet. Did you happen to know that they cut six so-called "participatory sports" -- including crew and swimming -- to lower the athletics deficit? What do you want me to do, restore those sports?

ARR: Yes.

Gov. Christobel: (looking grim) Well, it's not going to happen. Frankly, I don't give a damn about what happens to Rutgers as a so-called "institution of higher learning." I don't mind being unpopular, but only when it makes me popular. You're not considering the booster vote.

ARR: The booster vote?

Gov. Christobel: Sure. Don't you realize that when I get tough on state budget issues, every beer-swilling sports yobbo in New Jersey is on my side? They see me as a real macho guy. There are hundreds of thousands of them out there. Do you know what would happen if I messed with their football franchise?

ARR: But Governor Christobel, the people drinking beer in sports bars have nothing to do with Rutgers. They could care less whether Rutgers has a slum campus, or whether top New Jersey students see the university as a "school of last resort," or whether top faculty are leaving because the school is going downhill. All the boosters care about is the football franchise.

 

Meet the RU Boosters

Gov. Christobel: THAT'S MY WHOLE POINT! Look, do you have any idea how many votes I'd lose if I touched their football operation?

ARR: That, Governor Christabel, is what we meant by saying that, underneath your "tough guy" posturing, you're really pusillanimous. Have you ever thought about who, exactly, these people are? The ones you want to placate?

Gov. Christobel: What do you mean?

ARR: What we mean, Governor Christobel, is that it seems to us that anyone who had any self-respect wouldn't be willing to sell his soul -- especially for a bit of cheap political popularity -- to these people.

Gov. Christobel: (flustered) Well, look, there's other reasons you need football. Like, the football franchise had the highest "APR" rating in the United States. Did you happen to know that?

ARR: We did, Governor Christobel, we did. Do you happen to know that the "APR" rating is an empty public relations ploy?

Gov. Christobel: You're kidding!

ARR: We're not. Take a second right now to click on "The APR Fig Leaf." You might learn something.

Gov. Christobel: (goes away, comes back chastened) Well, anyway, a winning football franchise attracts students. I've said that again and again. You've got to attract students.

ARR: Governor, are you aware that studies show that students drawn to a school by football or basketball are invariably substandard academically and intellectually? The ones attracted to Rutgers by Schiano's franchise are lowlife "party animal" types whose very presence on campus is a disgrace to the university.

Gov. Christobel: (goes away, comes back pugnacious) So what do you want to do? Take a wrecking ball to that stadium that we've built with hundreds of millions of dollars just to satisfy that booster coterie on your Board of Governors?

ARR: Yes.

Gov. Christobel: (contemptuously) Then what? Abandon "athletic scholarships" and join some amateur conference like the Patriot League. Is that your idea?

ARR: Yes.

Gov. Christobel: (triumphantly) Ha! Where are you going to get players for your teams?

ARR: They'd be students. People would go out for teams in just the same way as they currently go out for the Targum or the orchestra or a dramatic production of Mourning Becomes Electra. It's called "participatory athletics."

Gov. Christobel: You mean, go back to the days when Rutgers played schools like Colgate and Columbia and Lafayette and Princeton?

ARR: Yes.

Gov. Christobel: That's crazy. Just crazy. (busily shuffling the papers on his desk) Look, I'm trying to deal with an $11 billion state deficit. I've already been damned courageous in laying a $97 million budget cut on Rutgers. How much would this "participatory athletics" scheme save a year?

ARR: (quietly) About $50 million.

Gov. Christobel: That's what I mean. How the hell do you expect me to get excited about . . . -- Did you say $50 million?

ARR: We did.

Gov. Christobel: Well, it's not going to happen. Look, right now every Republican candidate in the country is going around saying they want to be "the next Chris Christobel." Do you think that would be happening if I took on New Jersey football boosters?

ARR: No, Governor Christobel, we don't. Politicians in Alabama and Nebraska and Florida are just as fearful about offending their booster subcultures as you are about offending yours. We understand your timidity.

Gov. Christobel: Fearful. Is that, like, another name for what you called moral pusillanimity?

ARR: Timidity, pusillanimity, whatever. We understand, Governor Christobel. Politicians aren't noted for their courage. Even the ones who go around making tough noises to make themselves popular. Tell us, is it fun, going around making tough noises?

Gov. Christobel: You know, it is. I get a lot of publicity. I got to go on the Oprah Winfrey show. I get to strut around looking fearless when the public employees' unions run TV ads against me. It's fun.

ARR: We're happy to hear that you're enjoying yourself, Governor Christobel. Hope you get heaps of votes next time around.