There is some merit to critiques of the excesses of college athletics, but I think a lot of it is overall short-sighted. Dowling and co. point to some studies that say there is no correlation between athletic success and academic improvements. I answer back: are they looking at the right teams? BC after Flutie, Northwestern 1995, these need to be the models. Where was Duke before basketball? Does the relevant data even exist?
Let's be clear on one thing, the team runs a deficit of three million. But are the other parts of the school expected to turn a profit? Can I write a letter to the Targum complaining about William Dowling and how the English department is running a deficit? He'd have you think that the 3 million is going into a black hole. It is not.
It's 3 million to entertain the students. It's more effective than anything the program council could put together, or any other recreational activity sponsored by the school.
It also advertises the school, and I argue that with applications soaring this year, the football team is far more effective than anything the central administration could come up on their own. Their idea of advertising is to run that horrific commercial with the patronizing woman with the really annoying voice.
And, it's 3 million to energize the alumni. Let me tell you a story. After the victory over Navy last year, an emotional catharsis in the stadium as the team became bowl eligible and had its first winning season in a decade, something amazing happened. An alum from the 60s, who had ignored his school for years, was so impressed that President McCormick led him on a tour of the campus afterwards. And on that tour, he was so impressed by the neuroscience lab that he endowed a $1.3 million chair. That's HUGE for a school so desperate for funds. That alumnus would have never gone on the tour if not for football. And you know what? The team does not get credit for that donation, even though it was causally responsible. Well, that's happening this year on a large and small scale. Alumni were pissed on for years by the school and rightly closed their wallets. Now they care for the first time ever.
Applications are up, alumni giving is up (despite the cries that the campus reorganization that eliminated the women's college would be a disaster in that respect). There's a strong possibility that this year, showing the state actually does care about the school, will prevent another $80 million budget cut in 2007 and might actually reverse the last cut to some extent. There's a buzz now, and if the administration has half a clue, they will somehow find a way to not bungle the opportunity like they have with seemingly everything else Rutgers has touched over the past few decades.