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Does Rutgers need more sports or just more athletes? Let's look at the numbers

Scholarships are part of the numbers game when it comes to athletics. But the number of uniforms handed out might make a difference, too.

Roy DeBoer - used with permission

How many sports is enough?

It was a question we posed in a post last week, and it garnered more than a few comments.  Among those were a couple from sr85, who noted that one of Rutgers "problems" is that we have so few athletes for a school our size.  Even ignoring scholarships - since all schools are supposed to be following NCAA limits on those numbers - Rutgers' teams do not carry very large rosters.

Number of sports or number of athletes?

Number of sports is certainly a reference point. But ultimately it may not say a whole lot without looking at the number of absolute athletes participating. And it is here where RU's sport's offering is deficient. Given the size of Rutgers and certainly the size of the New Brunswick flag ship campus, that RU has only 600 or so participating athletes is shockingly low and well below many of our peer institutions. I looked at other schools like Wisconsin and Penn State and RU has almost half the participating athletes. It's a tricky proposition as to who you cut and/or who you add. Title IX calculus lurks behind this exercise too. I would love to see many of the sports that were cut reinstated: but not if it comes without the financial resources to compete and obtain top level coaching. Doing things half-assed can't be the roadmap for how RU evolves.

by sr85 on Mar 26, 2016 | 7:09 PM

I tended to agree, but I mostly felt that it was in certain sports, like tennis and track.  I didn't think it was that significant, but sr85 had his belief and restated it.

The data is clear

For those peer universities in the B1G, as defined by size of enrollment, RU has, on average, a much smaller number of participating varsity athletes.
i looked at this after the university senate published their opus.

by sr85 on Mar 26, 2016 | 8:10 PM

The gauntlet was down; I was going to investigate.  And you know what?  The man is right.  Oh, yeah, very right.

We had noted the NCAA statistics covering the average number of sports at D1 schools - 18 - and the fact that on average, D1 schools had 6% of their student body participating in athletics.  They also note that the average enrollment of a D1 school is 12,900.  That's quite a bit smaller than any Big Ten school, including Northwestern.

Where does RU fit in with other Big Ten schools?  If you look at unduplicated numbers - not duplicating the count for those athletes who participate in multiple sports (mostly track) - Rutgers is a pretty small athletic program.  We looked at six other programs for comparison.   Of those programs, Rutgers didn't have the fewest athletes, but it certainly didn't engage the most.  Not by a long shot.

Of the seven we looked at, both Nebraska and Purdue have fewer sports than Rutgers and had fewer athletes than Rutgers.  Wisconsin was the only other program with fewer sports than RU, while the other three had more.  Penn State sponsors 31, Michigan 29 sports, and Ohio State sponsors 37.

The point that sr85 makes, though, is significant.  Raw numbers are fine.  Nebraska and Purdue have fewer sports and it's seemingly understandable for them to have fewer athletes.  But look at the number of athletes when compared to the total student population.

No school gave as few athletic opportunities as Rutgers.  Nebraska had a surprisingly small enrollment in Lincoln, only 18,650.  So to a degree you could understand it having the highest percentage of students participating.

Rutgers, though, is a distant 7th in this survey.  Only 1/100 of a percent difference is significant when you consider that Purdue has 4,000 fewer students, four less sports, and 70 fewer athletes. It paints RU in a pretty bad light.

Track & Field is a good example of how Rutgers doesn't do it right.  Rutgers carries 38 athletes on its Women's Track program; Wisconsin caries 51, Purdue 48, Ohio State 59, Penn State 54. Scholarships aren't the issue, but engagement and involvement are.  On the men's side, it's the same story.  Rutgers carries 43 on the roster; Wisconsin has 52, Purdue 49, Penn State 60.

Try Women's Swimming.  While Purdue has 40 on its roster, Rutgers carries just 22.  Ohio State and PSU each have 31.

Rutgers entire athletic program has just 27 more athletes than Ohio State has male athletes.  Wisconsin has a third more athletes and Michigan nearly 40% more.

Scholarships aren't the issue; every school can only allocate what the NCAA allows.  And Rutgers is light in that area, though improving.  It is a matter of opening opportunities.  And opportunities lead to greater success.

Open the doors.  Expand the opportunities.  And could greater success be far behind?