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Rutgers Athletics: How many sports is enough?

The conversation continues about hockey. And let's not forget the six sports that disappeared back in '06. Can Rutgers afford to add any sports? Should it? And what about our Big Ten brethren and their sport count?

Once upon a time, Rutgers sponsored 31 sports. That's a lot. But it gave a lot of athletes an opportunity to participate.

Including me, playing Lightweight Football for two years.

Lightweight went by the boards somewhere in the late 80's/early 90's. But there were still 30 varsity sports.  And personally, I liked that; Rutgers was offering opportunities.  Of course, what I didn't realize was how "on the cheap" Rutgers was in operating them.  Limited scholarships, limited budgets.  And that was across the board, including football and basketball.

Then along came Bob Mulcahy and Greg Schiano.  Batten down the hatches, boys and girls.

In 2006, Mulcahy decided that six sports would be cut in order to better serve football's insatiable hunger and need for money the greater athletic good.  Bye-bye men's crew (lightweight and heavyweight), men's tennis, fencing (men and women), and men's swimming.  A lot of people were shocked and upset. And many, like crew and swimming, fought back.  The arguments for keeping the sports were strong, but so was Mulcahy's commitment to eliminating them.

And then there were 24

Rutgers has 24 sports, 10 for men and 14 for women (track & field count twice, one for indoor, one for outdoor).  I'm a big proponent of having as many sports as you can.  Obviously, money is a factor, but in the true sense of offering a broad-based program, I'm all in for providing just that.

Rutgers should have men's swimming.  It should have men's tennis.  It should have men's crew.  Of course, not everyone agrees with that position.  The post we had on Notre Dame joining the Big Ten for ice hockey drew a lot of attention, and a lot of comments, when it got around to looking at Rutgers adding ice hockey.  It also generated a conversation on Twitter, and this tweet sparked me to write some more.

First off, I don't think Rutgers is doing the athletes any favors, especially considering facilities we offer most of them.  I will grant you that Rutgers is offering those 600+ athletes an opportunity to get a great education and to continue doing what they love to do: play a sport and do so at a high level.

But the question is still out there and it's a fair one: how many sports do you need and how many do most schools offer?  What's the mission of the athletic department?

A look at the rest of the world

The NCAA reports that the average number of sports at D1 institutions is 18.  It's 15 at D2 and 18 at D3.  At the same time, it should be noted that D1 also has the smallest percentage of the student body (6%) participating in athletics.  But those schools also have much larger student bodies, so the number may not be of great consequence.

The D1 programs include both FBS and FCS schools.  Is there any difference in sports offered?  Without looking at all of the schools involved - which I was not prepared to do - it's hard to say.  But here is a sampling of FCS schools, some local, some of note, and the number of sports each offers:

  • Delaware:  21 (only 8 for men)
  • Fordham:  22
  • JMU:  18 (only 6 for men)
  • Lehigh:  24
  • Monmouth:  23
  • Northern Iowa:  17
  • Stony Brook:  20
  • URI:  18
  • Villanova:  24
  • William & Mary:  23

That's an average of 21 sports per school, less than Rutgers but more than the NCAA average for D1.  And just for kicks, MIT, which is D3, sponsors 34 sports.

The NCAA and the Big Ten

The NCAA sponsors championships in 37 sports, including skiing, rifle, water polo, and beach volleyball.  Thirty-seven.  And the Big Ten sponsors 28 sports.  Who plays what among Rutgers' peers?

B1G Sports All Sports Additional Sports outside B1G sponsored
Illinois 21 21
Indiana 23 24 Water Polo (W)
Iowa 24 24
Maryland 21 21
Michigan 28 29 Water Polo (W)
Michigan State 25 25
Minnesota 25 25
Nebraska 21 24 Beach Volleyball, Bowling, Rifle (all W)
Northwestern 19 19
Ohio State 28 37 Fencing (M,W), Pistol (M,W), Ice Hockey (W) Rifle (M.W), Volleyball (M), Synch Swim (W)
Penn State 28 31 Volleyball (M), Fencing (M,W)
Purdue 20 20
Rutgers 24 24
Wisconsin 22 25 Crew (M), Ltwt Rowing (W), Ice Hockey (W)
Average: 23.5 24.9

So, Rutgers is right in the center of it all in terms of sports offered.  And if you took out Penn State and Ohio State with their  significantly larger number of sports, the average for all sports offered by the remaining 12 conference schools is 23.4 teams.  Rutgers is right on the money.

The biggest argument against adding sports is cost.  Rutgers is just staying afloat in terms of adequately funding its existing sports, with full scholarship support the biggest challenge.  That's coming around and as the Big Ten money - and donations - increase, there should be few, if any, issues on that front.

Purdue has on more than a few occasions been mentioned in terms of running a financially balanced program.  But it also offers the fewest sports of any conference school.  And its president recently wrote that perhaps the school should consider how it spends and whether the athletic "arms race" is something it wants to engage in.  Purdue athletics returns money to the University, it has the smallest number of sports, and it has one of the smallest budgets in the Big Ten.  And its president is concerned about spending more.  Bob Barchi looks like a super jock in comparison.

But back to Rutgers and its needs and our wants.  We noted above that hockey has been kicked around as another sport to add/restore.  And there has been an earnest effort to at least bring the idea to the table.

In that article, Hobbs told Keith Sargeant:

"I actually have a proposal on my desk that I haven't had a chance to look at yet, from folks who want to support hockey,'' he told the students [at last week's town hall]. "But it's a very, very expensive proposition. And as I've said to anybody we've talked to about this, before we add sports, we have to make sure that the sports we have are fully supported. We're not doing that. I'm open to anything long-term. But first let's make sure the sports that we have are supported.''

How expensive you ask?  We'll go back to the Big Ten post on Notre Dame and get Adriaan Klaasen's numbers:

We know we will most likely have to provide private funding for the initial endowment of the program and up to 5 years of operations. Those totals look something like this:

Men's - $18M
Women's (based on a generous estimate of 3/4 cost of men's) - $13.5M
Total - $31.5M

And that's just to operate without any place to play.  For the sake of argument, what do other schools pay to operate their ice hockey programs?  We took last year's numbers for Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin along with 2014's for PSU.  The men's operating expenses averaged $2.59 million and the women $2.1 million.  So, Coach Klassy's numbers are pretty on point.

Should Rutgers add more sports?  I say yes.  Ice hockey, crew, men's swimming?  Absolutely.  But as Hobbs has said, you need to address your existing financial shortcomings first, and you need to get people (read alumni, fans, donors) excited and engaged:

"But the other part of that is winning. Because when you win, your alumni gets enthusiastic, your donations increase, more people want to be associated with you in terms of sponsors ... and that's what I've been tasked with: Finding great leadership for our programs, helping them to be successful, and then we'll find a level of support for our 24 programs that is hopefully exceptional for our conference, and that's when maybe we can look at, 'Do we add something?' ''

And again, we say, break out the checkbooks.