How will Rutgers spend the extra Big Ten money?

Reid Compton-US PRESSWIRE

A look at how to divvy up the increased television payout.

There's an aura of excitement in the air in New Jersey today. Rutgers football proved all of the doubters wrong once again, just as it has continued to do for the past decade. Before it was on the field, and now it's behind the scenes, with Tim Pernetti expertly proving himself to be an elite athletic director and salesman. Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel explained Delany's thinking with a story about how adding Rutgers and Maryland should make the conference boatloads of money. That will certainly be nice in the future, but for now, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Rutgers has a modest athletic budget overall - it barely spends more than Big Ten member Purdue for instance. Spending was an issue in the sense that to make itself attractive to the Big Ten, Rutgers had to undergo costly moves like expanding its football stadium. That of course drew media scrutiny in a bad economic climate, compared to peer schools who might have done similar things in years past to little attention.

The problem was that while trying to become a Big Ten school, there was not a Big Ten source of revenue to make things whole. As far as the whole geographic lottery goes, Purdue could do whatever it wanted because it had Ohio State and Michigan around to subsidize its efforts through osmosis. Rutgers athletics had to get $18 million from the school's general fund and $8 million in student fees in 2010. One mistake that the media has made has been attributing all of that to football. It's not true; about two million of the general fund subsidy is definitely football, six million isn't, and ten million is unattributed (with probably around six/seven million of that being for stadium expansion), while the majority of the student fees go to non-revenue sports. These figures are a few years out of date too, and Rutgers has and is in the process of doing several different projects to reduce the deficit.

Revenue figures for the Big East and Big Ten have varied; the Providence Journal reported around six million a few years back (and I can't find the stupid link unfortunately), while RU's 2010 revenues and expenses report has it higher. Keith Sargeant cited a $24.6 million yearly figure for the Big Ten yesterday, although there is no guarantee that the school will receive a full share right away, and that money doesn't start coming in until Rutgers actually joins the league. (I doubt the per school figure will go down though, because otherwise Jim Delany wouldn't have pushed so hard.) Plus, there's still a buyout to pay, and you have to account for increased travel costs. The windfall is not going to be right away, but when some of that money comes in, how exactly should RU spend it?

  • End the subsidy, and significantly reduce the student fees. In fact, if it is able to get into the black, Rutgers athletics does owe an obligation to the academic side to start seeing some money flowing in the other direction. I don't think a lot of the recent criticism was fair, because athletics does a lot for marketing the school, and now being affiliated with the Big Ten and CIC will give a respectable boost to the academic side. Plus, the subsidy overall was a drop in the larger university budget. Still, the entire university community is one big family. Everyone else helped out athletics through its lean years. Now that it's finally found a good job and moved out of its parents' basement, it's time to not only be independent but pay some back rent as well for the sanity and well-being of everyone involved. Rutgers is not at all a university where anyone could sleep at night if they thought athletics was having a detrimental impact on academics, and rightly so.
  • Push through for long-needed upgrades to the RAC. As Jerry Carino notes, the basketball programs waited their turn, and frankly will need this help in a midwestern conference. There's no doubt that football runs the show in the Rutgers athletic department, and it by all means should, but this is another investment that will pay dividends for the entire department down the line.
  • Any talk of replacing the RAC with a downtown New Brunswick arena is frankly ludicrous at this stage however. Try twenty years down the line. It almost happened a few years ago as part of a larger redevelopment deal. If DEVCO wants to gift one, that's one thing, but otherwise it's not at all feasible until Rutgers can bank some of that cash. It hurts basketball faithful to read this, but football frankly drives the bus in terms of fan interest and television revenue, and that's why this will remain a long term project. The only conceivable reason to move sooner rather than later is that the Ferren Mall, which would be by far the best spot for any hypothetical development, is a prime candidate to be razed in the midst of an exploding real estate boom in New Brunswick.
  • That being said, staff raises and respectable budgets should be in order all around. Give Mike Rice and his assistants a raise, as should the football staff (you can bet some will get offers at least after this season), and non-revenue coaches who have earned it on the field. Plus, this frees up more dough to make better future hires if needed. It's time to be elite in wrestling, soccer, lacrosse, and baseball.
  • Most importantly, it's time to compensate Tim Pernetti for leaving a lucrative executive career with CBS Sports to save the athletics program at his beloved alma mater. He is an elite talent, the single most valuable person that we have on the payroll, and should be compensated accordingly.
  • Sure, add more amenities if you need it for the non-revenue sports. One thing that needs to be done is fully fund all of those sports, especially the ones that can fully fund in-state now but have issues out-of-state.
  • Adding sports is not realistic however. Rutgers still has more than most athletic departments that have far more resources, and Title IX is always an issue given its requirements for maintaining gender proportionality. There's a minuscule, tiny tiny chance of bringing back something cheap. They DEFINATELY won't do something ludicrous like update Club Hockey to scholarship status. Sorry. It would be awesome, amazing even, but even Penn State only was able to do that after a mega alum wrote a gigantic check. Not happening.
  • What about football stadium expansion? Maybe in a decade. Rutgers is doing a lot better than they were pre-expansion, but have had trouble getting to full capacity owing to middling home schedules. The Big Ten goes a long way towards fixing that, but they will still have to maintain their success a bit more, graduate some more younger alumni, etc... before this could happen. A lot of the Big Ten fan bases have good travel reputations, but not many have big populations in the area. That's in the sense that probably a good portion of say, Northwestern alumni live in New York City, but there aren't that many of them overall. For now, this can only be analyzed in terms of getting Rutgers fans to shell out for a home package with the lure of two+ big games, with anything else a nice bonus for the time being if it does end up materializing.
In summary, expect incremental improvements for the time being, with the hopes of accomplishing more over time. Rutgers has been stimulating its athletic department for the past decade to the precipice of being a Big Ten team, and clearly that strategy has been completely vindicated. They played like they deserved to be in the conference on the field, and now literally have obtained membership. Mission accomplished, and now it's time to regroup, consolidate our gains, and plan the next move. The sense of urgency and desperation is gone, and (this may seem weird given the current state of the football program) now we need a safer, more conservative strategy that does not take on nearly as much risk. Tim Pernetti was able to make it work with his astute leadership and guidance, but the goal here isn't to be a flash in the pan. Rather, it's to take our momentum and build a sustainable foundation that will last for the long haul. The first step towards that promised land begins today, and it's going to be an absolutely exhilarating ride.
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