Maybe. A girl's gotta eat, after all.
As much as I loathe this story, and want to bury my head in the sand until it goes away; in the interests of non-homerism I am bound to providing all sides of the story. Here's a rare Sunday entry at this blog, as I hope to spend the rest of the coming week on football-related stories.
A highly publicized fundraising effort to bridge a $30 million deficit in the financing of Rutgers Stadium has all but collapsed, and university officials are now struggling to find ways to close the gap.
In a confidential cost analysis obtained by The Star-Ledger, university officials outlined an alternate plan that considers hikes in ticket prices and the diversion of millions in football stadium revenues to help pay for the controversial project, with the university looking to borrow nearly the entire cost of the $102 million expansion.
Ten days ago, senior university officials, including athletic director Robert Mulcahy, briefed the Rutgers governing board behind closed doors on the status of the troubled fundraising campaign, laying out a blueprint that assumes private gifts totaling no more than $2 million, according to board members who were there.
Rutgers board member John Russo said the clock is running out because the university has a self-imposed deadline of Aug. 1 to determine whether it is feasible to go ahead with the full construction project or wait until Rutgers has more money available. The first phase, which will add 1,000 premium seats in the mezzanine, is already under way. The second -- and more expensive -- phase is supposed to add another 13,000 seats and is scheduled to be ready in time for the 2009 season.
First, gut reaction? This is big time football. If Rutgers fans want a good football team, they're going to have to pay more than $40 a game for one. We deservedly should bear more of the burden on this project.
There's plenty of blame to go around though. Corzine isn't living up to his promises.
According to state and university officials, the fundraising drive encountered obstacles that were not quite so obvious when Corzine and Lesniak first announced the stadium campaign this past winter. They cited a series of unexpected hurdles, among them a national recession that hurt all types of fund-raising, and the whirlwind presidential election that has swallowed up hundreds of millions in donations that might otherwise have gone to universities or athletics. At the same time, restrictions imposed by Corzine's ethics advisers out of concern for the propriety of a governor asking for cash further complicated the effort.
Corzine's chief of staff, Bradley Abelow, said the governor and Lesniak went into the process with the best possible intentions, but did not realize the task would be far more complicated than anyone could have anticipated.
"For the governor and Ray, this is one of those genuine things," said Abelow, the state's former treasurer. "They're football fans; they're Rutgers fans."
Abelow recalled that the governor at first figured "we're going to make 10 phone calls and that would be it." The problem, however, was that those most likely to donate big money in response to Corzine -- like the state's largest employers, regulated companies and casinos -- could not be solicited directly by the governor because it could have appeared inappropriate.
Some more details on the backdoor PSLs:
Interviews with board members, finance experts and others familiar with the stadium project spelled out the economics of the situation confronting Rutgers, which is relying on millions in stadium revenues from ticket sales, parking fees and concession income to repay the bonds that will finance the expansion project.
They said when the university board approved the stadium expansion in January, it had to limit total borrowing to $72 million. Anything more than that could not support the debt service. That, they say, is why the school initially looked to Trenton to bridge the difference, and then to private donors when New Jersey's fiscal crisis cut off any possibility of additional state funding.
The university's alternative plan would boost stadium revenues beyond original projections to cover the increased annual borrowing costs.
According to the cost analysis given the board -- stamped "confidential draft" --the university is considering increases in game ticket prices that would be steadily ratcheted up. But the bigger impact on ticket prices envisions greatly expanding the seats covered by a so-called "priority points" program that requires a minimum level of contributions to the university to qualify for the best seats near the 50-yard line.
According to the university's athletic department, 6,000 seats currently require fans to accumulate priority points -- essentially a seat license -- that can amount to hundreds of dollars for the right to buy a season ticket. Under the plan presented to the board, as many as 39,000 seats in the stadium would require priority points that would have fans make separate contribution commitments to the university, bringing in an estimated $2.5 million in additional annual revenues.
Meanwhile, construction of the first phase of the stadium expansion project is ongoing, with the addition of 1,000 new "premium" mezzanine club and loge box seats. According to Mulcahy, fans will be in those seats for the Scarlet Knights' Sept. 1 game against Fresno State.
The university's internal cost analysis is in fact based on the assumption that those promises will be kept -- anticipating $2.4 million in additional revenues from those seats this year. More than $1.5 million of that would be applied toward debt service on stadium bonds.
Construction documents seem to contradict that schedule and suggest fans who buy those seats may have to wait much later in the season to sit down.
According to the university's contract with Gilbane Building Co., the stadium's construction manager, "substantial completion of construction" is to be reached by Sept. 26, and final completion is not anticipated until Nov. 28. After a private tour of the stadium last week, Gov. Corzine, in fact, told aides that he felt the construction could not possibly be done by Sept. 1, according to administration officials.
Here comes the reality check. If we don't expand after they've staked everything on it publicly, Rutgers loses all credibility as a fledging football program. Schiano flees, recruits bail, fans stay home. Far too much taxpayer money has been spent to subsidize professional sports in New Jersey already, and more is on the way. Rutgers fans might justly cry foul at the double standard, but that ultimately is no way to run a program.
This will undoubtedly set off another wave of uninformed Greg Schiano rumors. Hey, remember a month ago, when it was being reported that PSU was set on promoting internally? Me too!
What else can we do? Put on your eye shadow and high heels Rutgers fans; and remember, never, under any circumstances, should you kiss the johns. All of these scenarios involve significant blows to our pride and resolve, but are ultimately more palpitable than the alternatives.
Option one - sell out
I'm not one of those fans that goes into a frothing rage at the mere mention of the ACC or the Big Ten. As far as I'm concerned, live and let live. They've got their concerns, we've got ours, and hopefully, never the twain shall meet.
It's not particularly complex. I'm largely indifferent about growing up in New Jersey. However, the very thought of "flyover country" conjures up fearful thoughts of indignation and revulsion. Most outsiders think of New Jersey through the lens of The Sopranos. While not entirely inaccurate, they really take entirely the wrong message from the show. It's less (bless his soul)
and more bored suburban rich kids huffing industrial solvent? That's the New Jersey I grew up in.
As much as the rest of the country may dislike New Jersey, the feeling is mutual. When we're not watching the Yankees, or the Devils, or the DEFENDING SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS WHOOOO New York Football Giants. We're coolly indifferent to your cliches.
And that's why Rutgers fans wouldn't necessarily leap at the chance to join the more financially viable Big Ten or ACC conferences. The ACC has already made its play against the Big East and for more of the financial revenue pie. About a year ago, rumors started swirling around the Big Ten hungrily eying the New York market as it geared up for a long battle with Comcast. The BTN and Comcast recently settled, but the former would undoubtedly love to increase its share of the revenue pie. It could add the nationally-viable Notre Dame of course. If that's not an option, they can look westward to markets like St. Louis and Kansas City with Missouri, or they can make a play for the wealthier Northeast.
Do not discount the possibility of super-duper-superconferences as well. It's all just speculation at this point, but it's certainly not impossible that the SEC could expand to 14 if it ever launched a network, triggering a wave of conference reshuffling that would almost certainly weaken the Big East. In sort of a prisoner's dilemma, some Rutgers fans have argued that we should beat the other rats off the sinking ship by taking the first chance out if we get it. Some Syracuse fans are still grumbling to this day about VT outmaneuvering them for a chance to join the ACC, but that's probably more of a function of their overall football struggles over the past few seasons.
Between the money (certainly a major factor), the risk, and the academic consortium (kind of overstated, snooty Rutgers alumni prefer to associate with the northeastern elite), the case for expansion is well known to anyone familiar with message boards that have too much time on their hands over the summer.
Option two - take the money and run
As you may recall, from a few months back
Rutgers and Notre Dame have called off plans for a six-game home-and-home series starting in 2010, as Rutgers does not wish to play its home games against the Fighting Irish off-campus.
"Rutgers entered into discussions about a possible long-term series with Notre Dame, but at the end of the day both schools could not agree about the site of the games," Rutgers athletic director Bob Mulcahy said in a prepared statement issued by the university. "We feel Rutgers' home games should be played on campus at Rutgers Stadium."
Mulcahy declined additional comment when reached by phone, according to The Star-Ledger of Newark. N.J.
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Irish wanted Rutgers' three home games in the series to be played at the new Giants/Jets stadium in the Meadlowlands -- a compromise that Rutgers, which is undertaking a $102 million renovation of Rutgers Stadium, was unwilling to make, according to the report.
Rutgers Stadium will hold about 55,000 fans after the renovation is completed in 2009.
Some Rutgers fans took the opportunity to beat their chests, while the self-congratulatory, paternalistic pats on the back came in from around the college football world. Good for you Rutgers! Yeah, stand up to the evil domers! How many of those people usually even give us the time of day?
This deal was initially made because, well, we needed the money. I'm not privy to whether a 50% gate in the Meadowlands at $150+ a pop (BTW, I bet we would bring 60,000+ if we could) makes more sense than selling out RU stadium. It's certainly worth looking into however.
Option three - there's always house calls
From offhand scuttlebutt, or even some respected sources, pretty much every big name in college football would love to play Rutgers - at a one off game at their home stadium, without a return visit to Piscataway. If we're "lucky", they want to play a game at the Meadowlands for connecting with NYC area alumni, which also helps them mine the region for recruits.
But Michigan athletic director Bill Martin told the Detroit News that his preferred opponent would be Rutgers, particularly if a return game could be arranged to play the Scarlet Knights at the Meadowlands in a later season.
I'm not singling out Michigan, Notre Dame, or anyone here. Any big name you can imagine - USC, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Penn State - they've all offered lopsided deals, they've all been summarily turned down. How much could we look to make from such a game?
The Nittany Lions will pay OSU $800,000 for the visit. Television revenue increases the payday to $1.1 million. That tops the approximate $1 million the Beavers received for the 2004 game at Louisiana State.
I'm assuming that Rutgers could, given its cachet, ask for somewhere north of that, especially going across the country to play a marquee opponent. Two or three of those and some creative greasework would go a long way towards fixing our budget woes in the short-term. We need to expand the stadium; both in order to continue growing as a program, and to build up the infrastructure necessarily for long-term financial viability and self-sustainability. While I loathe indescribably each of the three options I have raised, we may end up backed into a corner. It's one problem that even Monty Hall may not be able to find his way out from.
Stay tuned during the week as we return to the happy thoughts of the Big East media day!