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Lesniak report big on numbers, small on plan

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In a 45-page document, the New Jersey Senator advocates for increased athletics spending.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday night, New Jersey Senator Raymond Lesniak released a 45-page document, advocating for increased athletics spending.

The report includes tables, graphs, statistics, numbers analyzing the economic and social impacts of increased spending.  Lesniak hired a firm to do the research that proves the university's move to the Big Ten provides enormous financial opportunities.

Aside from the data, two things stand out in the report: (1) the importance of athletics in today's college experience and (2) the lack of a plan for the future.

The Importance of Collegiate Athletics

Whether academia accepts it or not, athletics are now a big part of the collegiate experience.  It sounds simple, but many high school students take into account a university's athletic success when choosing colleges.

The delayed action towards new athletic facilities suggests Rutgers may not be all-in on this notion.

In the report, Lesniak emphasizes that they should be, making it clear that an improved athletic program will make Rutgers even more attractive to prospective students.

"While academics are typically the main factor in students' college choice, the extent and quality of athletic programs are also significant factors," reads the report.  "This is evidenced in a study (Osborne 2004) that shows a statistically significant connection between athletics spending and university tuition revenues. This suggests that students inherently value college athletics and have a marginal willingness to pay for them."

However, even if Senator Lesniak's report clarifies to the university how important college athletics are, Rutgers still lags behind other Big Ten schools, such as Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin, who consistently dump millions of dollars into their athletic departments.  As the athletics at these schools grew, so did their application rates and academics.

Lesniak advocating the athletics factor is a step in the right direction, but it remains up to the university officials to accept this fact in order for increased athletics spending to become a reality.

Into the Future

Lesniak's report is strong on data, but weak on a plan for the future.  He emphasizes the need to continue athletics spending into the future, but fails to explain how this will be done and what the steps are.

However, a 45-page document from a Senator will never be enough to deliver new athletic facilities and, in turn, better athletic programs.  The entire Rutgers community must buy in to building and establishing a top-tier athletics program.

Fans, students, alumni, faculty, coaches, and student-athletes all must put in the work and, most of all, be patient.  In the Big Ten, success won't come overnight.

Fans must realize they may have to withstand a few sub-par seasons in order to reap the benefits a few years down the road.

Alumni and faculty must support all teams, not just football and basketball, as well as raise the money in order to foot the bill for new facilities.

And coaches and student-athletes must perform on and off the field in order to prove to the community that increased athletics spending is worth it.

In the end, Lesniak's report is a step in the right direction.  The data is enough for the university to realize the tremendous benefits increased athletics spending will have, but many questions still remain.  Where will the funds come from in order to increase athletics spending?  How will the university sustain the spending into the future?  What is the next step after athletic facilities?

These are questions that need to be answered and, eventually, will be answered.  But how soon?