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Rutgers Athletics: How far is up? A look at where we can and want to go - Final installment of a 4-part series

Even if you've got the money, is there a limit to how far any school can go? Or is willing to go? Our final look.

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Athletics vs. Academics

When Phil Knight started writing checks to his alma mater, it wasn't just for athletics.  He admitted to then coach Mike Bellotti that he was first and foremost a fan, so athletics was going to benefit.  But as we've noted previously, Knight also supported Oregon to the tune of millions for library development, a law school building, a management center, and endowed chairs.  Oregon seemingly was not forsaking its core mission of education and research for the sake of winning on the field.

At the same time, there have been questions at Oregon of excessive influence and questionable gray areas of corporate influence on university actions by Nike.  And then the question comes up, just how much is too much?

Too much? Flying ducks at Oregon's football performance facility represent players that have been drafted to the NFL.(Photo: Scott Olmos, USA TODAY Sports)

Rutgers doesn't seem to have that issue.  If only.....

Rutgers, despite the complaints of many non-sports fans or those who simply feel that athletics should be emphasized less, still spends on academics.  Citing the Knight Commission again, and using a somewhat random selection of peer institutions, Rutgers spends a lot on its full time students' education.

Data Source: Knight Commission Athletic & Academic Spending Database for NCAA Division I. (2013). Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. Athletics Data Source: USA TODAY's NCAA Athletics Finance Database.

And in case you feel that it is simply cost-of-living that drives Rutgers' expenses, the difference in the COL between the Middlesex-Monmouth metro area and the Portland, Oregon metro is 2.38%.....higher in Oregon.

As compared to so many of the Power 5 schools, Rutgers is behind in a lot of revenue areas.  RU got started later in the move to real D1 athletics, and not being a part of a viable conference for so long put it behind in most revenue areas.  Let's look at just three areas, comparing Rutgers and Oregon: ticket sales, contributions, and university funds used for athletics.


Much has been made of the recent $47 million subsidy (red) to athletics, a number that reflects many one time costs associated with exiting the Big East/AAC as well as paying compensation for former employees. But consider the contributions (green); the gap is staggering even if Phil Knight was not part of the Oregon equation.

How high is up?

Back in early December, our colleague Andy Egan wrote a FanPost asking the question, "What is our ceiling program?"  That is, who do we aspire to become?  Can it/should it be Oregon?  Probably not without our own version of Phil Knight.  Is it Penn State, Virginia Tech, Michigan, or some other P5 school?  Oregon, for its part, no longer seems to have a ceiling.  Knight - and Nike - have positioned Oregon to be successful in a lot of areas for a long time.  Although the question still arises, what happens when Phil Knight is no longer around?  Can the success and the movement he created sustain itself?

Where does Rutgers see itself and how much are we willing to spend?  How much can we spend?

Until the Big Ten revenue reaches its full distribution amount, somewhere around 2020, Rutgers needs to work hard to raise funds for just about everything it needs in athletics.  And what it needs is also just about everything.  It needs to increase donations, increase corporate sponsorship, increase attendance (read ticket sales), and find ways to do it so that it doesn't alienate its base.  Rutgers, the sleeping giant, is at a crossroads.  When it awakens it will be looking up....but how far up?

* * *

This was the final installment of a four-part series on Rutgers Athletics. Catch up on previous installments here:

Part I: What is the ceiling for Rutgers?

Part II: How far can we go without a money man?

Part III: How far do we need to go?  What Nike brought to Oregon

Part IV: How far is up?  A look at where we can and want to go