The money that Rutgers spends — and loses — on its athletics program will be examined on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on Tuesday at 10 p.m. EST.
NJ Advance Media viewed an advance screening of the 15-minute segment entitled, “Arms Race.” With Jon Frankel reporting, the piece examines how the pursuit of winning on the athletic fields continues to drive up college costs and notes that Rutgers is among the majority of schools that loses money on its athletics programs.
It starts off by showing a packed High Point Solutions Stadium, with the band performing, with fireworks exploding, and with former Scarlet Knights football coach Kyle Flood leading his team out of the tunnel for the 2014 Big Ten opener against Penn State.
“This is the scene at Rutgers University on a Saturday night in the fall. It’s the biggest party in New Jersey. Everything young people dream of when they go off to college,” Frankel says during the opening narration. “But when morning comes and all that’s left is the bill, some on campus say it was less a dream than a nightmare.”
Cue in Mark Killingsworth, a long-standing critic of Rutgers athletics spending, who then criticizes the university’s Board of Governors for, he said, writing “the athletic program a blank check, spending money hand over fist and bleeding red ink.”
“I think if more students knew what they were paying and what they’re getting,” Killingsworth added, “I think they’d be outraged.”
It references the 34-page report he co-wrote for the university Senate’s budget and financial committee that examines the athletics department’s spending — first obtained and detailed by NJ Advance Media on March 27, 2015 — and notes that “over last 12 years the school’s athletics department has lost $312 million.”
“I love football. I love sports,” Killingsworth said. “I hate deficits. And I particularly hate deficits that take money out of the university’s core mission — academics.”
In order to fund its $76.6 million budget, the Rutgers athletics department was subsidized with just over $26 million from the university’s general fund for the fiscal year 2015, according the institution’s financial report filed to the NCAA, in January.
“If they kept that $26 million in the curriculum, think about what we could do,” said David Hughes, the president of Rutgers faculty union and a professor of anthropology, who last fall was a vocal critic of how the university handled the suspension of Flood after the then-coach broke compliance rules by engaging in a player’s academic affairs. “We would not have to cancel classes as we do. And this university is canceling classes left and right because they say they don’t have the money. They do have the money.”
Killingsworth says the football coach’s salary “was increased $200,000 … virtually the same week they announced the library’s budget was being cut by $500,000.”
The Real Sports report then details how the athletics department’s missteps have been costly for Rutgers, showing pictures of Flood, ex-men’s basketball coach Eddie Jordan, ex-Athletics Director Julie Hermann, ex-AD Tim Pernetti and ex-men’s basketball coach Mike Rice to prove the point.
According to NJ Advance Media reports, Rutgers has spent $6.5 million on the buyouts of the aforementioned coaches/ADs since 2013.
“We’re paying a lot of people not to work for the university right now,” Hughes said.
Added Killingsworth: “The administration has had an incredible talent for picking the wrong people and the inevitable consequences (is) you have to have a buyout down the road.”
Frankel’s report then details how Rutgers spent $26,000 per game to board its football team on campus at The Hyatt in New Brunswick on the eve of home games last fall. It reveals documents that show how Rutgers spent $69,154.20 for food for the football team before a total of four football games.
(Not noted in the report, but important to explain here for context: Boarding football teams at an on-campus hotel on the eve of home games is a common practice in major college athletics. There are many reasons for it, including the desire to hold meetings and walkthroughs, host team meals and to enforce a team-wide curfew. It’s widely considered to be the cost of doing business considering home games typically rake in seven figures of profit. According to its most recent fiscal year report, Rutgers earned $1.8 million per home game in 2014)
While Rutgers officials declined to be interviewed for the Real Sports report, Frankel said: “Supporters for the program say these (financial) losses will turn into big profits — that’s if Rutgers keeps investing in sports and becomes a national power like its new rivals in the wealthy Big Ten Conference.”
Although Rutgers’ athletics spending is covered for the majority of the piece, additional reporting takes place at Eastern Michigan University, where, according to a press release previewing the report, “red ink flows and the attendance at football home games is the lowest in top tier Division I.”
It also details how Paul Quinn College in Dallas, a tiny private school competing at the lowest level of college athletics, dropped football in 2007 because, according to university President Michael Sorrell, it was bleeding money annually.
The report concludes at Rutgers, where Killingsworth and Hughes are interviewed while standing in front of the football stadium.
“We’ve forgotten where our soul is,” Hughes said. “Our soul is in educating people. It’s in disseminating knowledge, it’s in advancing science, it’s innovating, criticizing. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re good at.”
Added Killingsworth: “I think what we’ve got now is the kind of beer and circus atmosphere, which is not going to do us any good in the long run.”