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What level of commitment is Rutgers willing to make with football?

With a report that negotiations with Greg Schiano is at a crossroads, a bigger question has arisen.

Rutgers v Ohio State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Late Wednesday morning, NJ Advance Media’s Steve Politi, Keith Sargeant, and James Kratch reported that negotiations between Rutgers and Greg Schiano have hit a critical juncture. Schiano has reportedly made “significant demands” in order to return as head coach for Rutgers football.

From the report:

Schiano is believed to want significant improvements to the football infrastructure in Piscataway, including an indoor practice facility that is a common recruiting tool on every rival Big Ten campus and would likely move the team out the existing headquarters at the Hale Center.

It is likely that any project of that magnitude would need high-level university approval before it can be included in a contract with the coach. The next football coach’s contract will need Board of Governors approval, and the university would presumably need to call for a “special meeting’’ to approve any deal.

If you thought Schiano wasn’t coming to the negotiating table with a list of demands than you were kidding yourself. The question is how reasonable are those demands? While we don’t know the specifics and entirety of those demands, this much I think is true: Schiano is asking for facility upgrades that would put Rutgers on level ground with the rest of the Big Ten.

The outdoor practice facility, the weight room, and new locker room that have been constructed the past couple of years were important and necessary upgrades for the football program. Credit to athletic director Pat Hobbs and the big donors that made it happen. However, the problem is that Rutgers was so far behind where they needed to be to reasonably compete off the field with its Big Ten counterparts when they joined the league. Mismanagement and small time thinking from Rutgers brass over the period of decades cannot be fixed in a couple of years.

The question now becomes how committed is Rutgers to the football program and how reasonable are Schiano’s demands? What he is potentially asking for is a significant financial investment likely north of $50 million dollars. How much of a guarantee Rutgers can even make from a financial perspective and timeline wise to write into the contract for Schiano remains to be seen. Even if it’s complicated to make some type of guarantee, Rutgers now runs the risk of sending the wrong message to other potential candidates and the fan base if they say no to Schiano’s demands.

If the anticipated return of Schiano falls through, Rutgers can’t reasonably expect to land a candidate of higher caliber. It appears Butch Jones is plan B and while I think he has the potential to be a solid hire, it’s hard to argue he would be better than Schiano for many reasons, including recruiting impact, galvanizing the fan base, and bringing instant credibility to the program. And what if Jones changes his own demands and follows suit to Schiano’s, then what does Rutgers do? At this point, losing both candidates and having to wait for Plan C in December would be a borderline disaster.

Pat Hobbs said in his press conference after firing Chris Ash that “I’m looking for the very best coach who will make Rutgers football competitive and compete for Big Ten Championships. That’s why I came here. I want to go to a Rose Bowl, right. So I want a coach that I believe is capable of making us competitive on the field and competing ultimately for Big Ten Conference championships.”

Is that coach Greg Schiano? Maybe, maybe not. But now that his demands are publicly known, any coach worth his salt and capable of leading Rutgers to championships will ask for the same.

Hobbs and Greg Brown, a Board of Governors member and chair of athletic committee, are in a very difficult spot. They now need to convince the rest of the BOG and top university officials that this type of commitment is necessary to progress the program long term.

We are at a point of where the old saying “put your money where your mouth is” becomes relevant in this coaching search. It was never fully about salary for Schiano, although I have to believe another demand is a guarantee regarding salary pool to fill out his coaching staff. That being said, Schiano is coming from Ohio State and has experienced a program that puts forth a maximum investment in order to achieve maximum results. While it’s taken decades of investments and commitment for Ohio State to achieve that level, if Rutgers truly does want to one day hoist a Big Ten Championship trophy, the commitment to build the tools and resources that are commonplace at top programs is a necessity. A football only facility is something even Maryland and Northwestern have, so it’s the norm across the Big Ten.

Pat Hobbs has proven he is a deft fundraiser and that the RFund has been a major success. The money to build these football facilities has to be raised, it can’t come from an already hemorrhaging budget. It can’t impact the other sports in the athletic department either. Big time thinking and more fundraising is now needed once again. If Rutgers is sincere in it’s “relentless pursuit of excellence”, than they need to make this happen.

It’s fair to question whether Schiano is the right coach to one day bring Rutgers football to a championship level. However, his demands for the level of support he is asking for is not unreasonable in the long term. How long he’d agree to wait and how long it would take Rutgers to produce is unknown. The problem is you have to start somewhere and if the answer from Rutgers is no right now, the bigger question becomes then when? This is no longer just about finding the right coach for now, but having the long term mindset to make Rutgers a perennial winner. That mindset is key in finding the right coach, whether it’s Schiano or someone else capable of turning the program around.

On the day of the 150th anniversary of the first ever college football game between Rutgers and Princeton, history is being celebrated. However, how Rutgers decides to shape it’s future in this moment in time will be the most important development to come from this historic day.

UPDATE: The latest report indicates Rutgers is willing to meet Schiano’s demands.