Money woes aren't just because of debt

Something else to read while you ponder the odds (are there any?) for tomorrow's game and read the OTB staff predictions post.

This week, as Rutgers prepares to take on Delaware on Saturday, dropped a bit of a bombshell. Rutgers Athletics has not been completely truthful/transparent in its spending and borrowing practices.

Athletics is somewhere north of $265 million in debt, having borrowed a bunch of bucks from the University and the Big Ten to float not construction, but operations. Not a good look.

I guess it’s an especially bad look when this week’s opponent is a "paycheck" opponent. The Fighting Blue Hens will be taking home $350,000 for their journey up the Turnpike to Piscataway.

Now, every P5/A5 team does this: schedule an opponent that you feel you’re able to beat at home and reward them for their compliance with a hefty paycheck. Just ask Jacksonville State how that works.

But I’m not here to rail about scheduling. No, I’m here to rail about donations.

In all the ranting about Rutgers’ athletic debt, which is by no means a small thing, there came some information about RU’s fans. Particularly the folks who do and don’t donate money to the University.

While all universities rely on donations from alumni, fans, and friends – especially in the "big time" of athletics – Rutgers is struggling. Rutgers got into the "big time" athletics race kinda late. It didn’t have a thriving formal foundation to raise money until 1973; that’s seven years after it’s 200th anniversary! And currently, according to the report:

Rutgers was last among 52 public universities in the five richest conferences in donations to athletics for operations in 2019-20. Rutgers was next to last in ticket sales and 50th in generated revenue. Meanwhile, athletics relied on more university support, including student fees, than any of the other schools.

That is a big, big problem. And before you say, well, of course Ohio State or Michigan or Penn State take in big bucks. How about Indiana....or Indinia if you like. The report is pushing two-plus years old but, Indiana was the 20th ranked school in terms of donations, to the university and not just athletics, with over $408 million in one year! And while OSU and Michigan are on that list, PSU s not. There are, for the record, ten of those top 20 donation schools that are not in FBS. Some, like MIT, are D3. So, there's more to this than athletics.

That being said, Rutgers is still hurting when it comes to people donating. We don't have Michael Bloomberg donating over $3 billion (yes, BILLION) to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins. We don't have Phil Knight from Oregon or Kevin Plank from Maryland. And it's been this way for a long time. In 2014 - when Rutgers entered the Big Ten - the University was saying how they were playing from behind in donations. was saying the same thing at the time.

From a story on Florida State (you ever think they'd get two mentions in one post on this blog?) comes the 2020 data showing RU has moved ahead of Maryland in its endowment but still lags behind most B1G schools. And it's not getting easier to improve. Across the board, and before Covid, giving to colleges was slowing and shrinking.

What can Rutgers do? Well, it can keep pressing people for donations. It can make it attractive to go to games and be a part of the game day feel. Things that motivate people to open their wallets. It can improve the student experience during the undergrad years. The largest annual donations tend to be to smaller, liberal arts colleges where students are not a number. For Rutgers, being big as well as spread out over five campuses in Central Jersey fosters a lost feeling; lost students don't become generous alums.

But that brings us to something RU does have: lots and lots of alumni. Currently, about 530,000 living ones. And if everyone gave just (yeah, I know, "just") $100 annually, that's over $53 million! And that still puts us about $350 million behind Indiana from that earlier report. But, it does mean that there are opportunities for Rutgers to build its endowment and its annual donations and, perhaps, reduce that yucky debt in athletics.

Money may be the root of all evil and at the root of a lot of evil in college athletics. But it certainly has a way of making life a bit easier along the way.

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