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Rutgers, the NJSIAA, and high school hoops

The state athletic association said it couldn't afford to have the state basketball championships at the RAC. Not everyone agrees.

In the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, the great character actor Strother Martin drawls out the classic movie line, "What we have here is failure to communicate."

The other day, the NJSIAA - the state association overseeing high school sports - announced that the state basketball finals would not be at the RAC but would instead be held at the Pine Belt Arena on the campus of.....Toms River North High School.

And apparently that was news to Julie Hermann and the Rutgers athletic staff.  Hermann called the NJSIAA in order to understand what happened and how it could be changed, returning the games to Rutgers.

From the NJSIAA's side, it was costing them a lot to use the RAC.  Their income from this major event was "really low".  And I understand that monies from things like football, basketball, and wrestling championships help defray the costs from sports where income is virtually non-existent, such as field hockey, bowling or cross country.

The two sides - Rutgers and the NJSIAA - met on Wednesday, and apparently it was a productive meeting. It is only right that these events should be, just as several football championships are, played at the state university.  Now, does Rutgers have expenses in hosting state tournament games?  Of course.  You turn the lights on, there's an expense.  Someone operates the scoreboard, people are on security, there's an expense.  But I've got a problem with how some people - particularly state legislators - are viewing things.


The legislator that Gannett's Greg Tufaro is referencing is state Assemblyman John Burzichelli.  Burzichelli is right in saying that the tournament finals should be at Rutgers.  But it was Burzichelli who went after the NJSIAA's championship ticket price system, saying it needed to be brought in line with regular high school game ticket prices. It was his 2010 law that forced the NJSIAA to cut costs (maybe not a bad thing), but that also forced the organization to limit expenses in various areas, including, it appears, facilities rentals.

Now, in fairness to the assemblyman, the NJSIAA has been able to control costs under the restrictive ticket pricing.  In 2012-13 it made a $30,725 profit, it's first since 2008-09.  But that total doesn't leave a lot of room for error....or higher priced rentals.

Don't give funding, but ask for more services

I had issues with the original ticket price limitations when they came about five years ago.  The pricing wasn't that onerous and, as a wrestling fan, I thought the pricing at Boardwalk Hall in AC, for example, was very fair and appropriate.  But that's water under the bridge.  What isn't, to me, is the perspective of some other legislators regarding Rutgers.

Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, D-Middlesex, who chairs the State Assembly Education Committee, said he believes hosting the NJSIAA basketball championships should be "part of Rutgers' mission as the state university. This (potential expense for hosting games) is an infinitesimal speck on their (projected $3.6 billion 2014-15 operating) budget. If there is any financial challenge, Rutgers should burden it." [emphasis added]

The cost is "an infinitesimal speck on their budget." But that speck is, nonetheless, there.  It is real, a real expense to the Rutgers.  Someone has to pay the freight.  I would ask the legislature as a whole, how much of a "speck" is Rutgers' budget to the state?  How much of Rutgers' budget comes from the state?  Not as much as it used to be, and certainly not so much that that "speck" can be considered largesse.  Perhaps in a few years, when Rutgers' share of Big Ten money is in the tens of millions, that speck won't be much to sniff at.  But today, with a multi-million dollar subsidy to athletics, every dollar needs to be spent wisely.

Will the two sides come to some agreement?  I hope so and, in fact, I believe so.  They need to, as Jerry Carino writes.

So let's be fair to Rutgers.  The NJSIAA never even approached Rutgers to negotiate a better financial arrangement.  We all know that Rutgers Athletics doesn't have money to burn.  The University doesn't get that big a boost from state funds.  So for a legislator to sit back and point fingers at Rutgers seems a bit disingenuous.

The state high school basketball championships belong at Rutgers and at the RAC.  Intelligent people can and should figure out how to accomplish that.  Let's see what happens.