Rutgers screws students, again!

When I first started attending Rutgers in the Fall of 2001 the university had the football coach come to speak to all the incoming freshman. Offering free red t-shirts he pleaded with students to start coming to the games, our team needing the support of students to start winning. Few people went, the stadium often being mostly empty, at least until 2006. Everything changed that year. The team started gaining victories on the astroturf and students flocked to the stadium, some cutting class for several days to make sure that they could get good seats for the big end-season games. Some nights it actually sounded like a riot across the Raritan, and the 2006 success of the team rolled over into a well-attended 2007 season despite a more mediocre record. I've never been to a game, nor do I have any plans to do so, but it is surprising how quickly things changed.

This swell of popularity came at a time when severe cuts were beginning to be made to budgets, classes, and staff at Rutgers, the poor state of New Jersey's finances upping tuition and school fees. According to a letter I received just a few weeks ago my tuition is going to go up another 8.5% this year, making the total astronomically higher than what it cost in 2001. In a gamble to turn against the receding financial tide top administrators decided to expand the football stadium (projected to cost $102 million), using private donations and $73 million in bonds to increase seating and bring in more revenue. Many saw this as a dangerous game, holding off on desperately needed renovations to stake the financial future of the university on football attendance when the team's past record had been so poor, but despite the protests plans moved ahead.

The project began to stir up controversy again earlier this month when bids to complete the stadium expansion (including new video & sound systems; 13,000 seats; elevators; concession stands; etc.) came in as much as $18,000,000 over budget. A 1,000 seat expansion that will include box seats (which will not be ready for the beginning of the season as promised) will be completed but the larger expansion has quickly become a nightmare, no one seeming to know where the extra money is going to come from. Then the Star Ledger dropped an even bigger bombshell; Rutgers made a secret deal with football coach Greg Schiano that has undercut the integrity of the university.

The big-time expansion of the stadium expansion was set to be finished by 2009, and Rutgers gave Schiano a "secret escape clause" in which he is able to walk away, without penalty, if the university misses the mark. Under the original 10-year contract Schiano would have to pay $500,000 if he walks away early but an amendment to it hidden from the public makes him immune if Rutgers doesn't finish the project on time. Why did the university do this? To keep Schiano at Rutgers, but this wasn't the only sweetener secretly added. On top of the staggering $2 million contract Rutgers added $250,000 funneled through a vendor so not to appear on the Rutgers payroll, also known as money laundering. (The chief executive of the vendor stated that the extra cash was not taxpayer money, the money presumably being from private sponsorships.) A group of concerned Rutgers faculty, staff, and students, the Rutgers 1000, also noted that Schiano has been given a blank check for air travel by jet and helicopter, the university of course picking up the tab as fuel costs rise.

Asked about this deception Rutgers president Richard McCormick waffled, stating that he couldn't recall why telling the truth was more difficult than covering up his covert dealings to appease the football coach. Although McCormick wrote "Beyond the increased charges for students, our entire university community will be called upon to address the significant loss in state support this year," in the letter that told me I'm going to be paying more this year than ever the football program is not being asked to make such sacrifices. The desire to ride the popularity wave generated by the 2006 season is more important than desperately needed renovations and changes to the university's academic programs (and all this after a recent reaccreditation board said they had "no recommendations" for improvement at Rutgers).

Rutgers 1000 has raised another interesting question; when was the secret stadium-expansion contract signed? This is important because the administration held public hearings over whether or not to build an expansion earlier this year but if there was a secret contract McCormick might have already been contractually obligated to build, meaning that the public hearings were all for nothing. If this is the case then the administration was listening with deaf ears, disregarding the concerns of the Rutgers community and hiding their true intentions.

Perhaps even more galling is the coach's reaction to the controversy. A believer in the "chain 'o command" he simply stated "I don't worry about that stuff." Well you should worry Mr. Schiano. You were part of a secret deal that has shocked and disappointed many people, and the most you can say is "I don't worry about that stuff"? You were given truckloads of extra cash for meeting arbitrary goals like "high ticket sales" during a time when the university is financially collapsing but you sit there acting as if you have earned every penny. Such arrogance is disheartening.

The controversy here isn't about the amount of money, though. It's about keeping things secret from taxpayers and students attending the university in a time of financial strain. As a student paying out the nose (and not just that) to attend Rutgers I have a right to know what the university is doing with the money I'm putting into it. Some say that the money for Schiano came from corporate sponsorships and so it is not a public matter, but I disagree. The argument for a bigger football program is that it will bring in money to benefit the rest of the university yet the football program can't even satisfy it's own gargantuan appetite. Lecture halls and offices are languishing in a poor state while a coach with an overall losing record is sucking up more and more money. When will the money that comes in from football benefit academics? Will it ever? What if the $102 million (or $120 million) expansion occurs and the crowds stop coming, leaving the university hanging with $72 million+ in loans in a tightening financial state? The university is spending more and getting less, running up a debt that there is no plan to pay off. Surely I'm not the only one who sees this.

There are some big questions left hanging in the air, our cowardly president and administrators lacking to courage to tell us about their plans, problems, and proposed course of action. Will the outrage over this situation turn into anything tangible or just fizzle? With the expansion projections over budget and Schianogate poisoning the well for potential private donors how will Rutgers obtain the $48 million (as of now) to complete the stadium they promised their pet coach? If Schiano leaves or fails to pack 'em in over the next few years will students have to foot the bill for this football folly? The option of taxing students for a bloated football program is on the table, so what will the seemingly inept administration decide to do? How is the academic mission of the university going to be bettered by a money-sucking sports program that has given the university national attention in all the wrong ways? These are disconcerting questions, and I have the feeling that we're in store for more upsetting answers.


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When I first started attending Rutgers in the fall of 2001, the football coach had to come and practically beg the incoming freshmen to come to a football game. Promises of free t-shirts and plenty of seating were doled out to try and get attendance up, but the fact of the matter was that we didn't…

:/ How utterly shameful. Being a Texan, I'm used to seeing facilities and academic extra-curricular activities sacrificed for football, but to see a school with the reputation of Rutgers doing this is depressing, particularly when they use such questionably legal methods.

Considering that they've already engaged in money-laudering, who's to say that the money for some of this isn't coming from misappropriation of tuition payments and state/federal monies? How transparent has their funding for this project been?

Pretty crooked. This reminds me of a book I once read called "the Hundred Yard Lie" about the kind of dastardly things sports programs at schools do to attract talent and generate money. The specific lie that the book refers to is that such actions that benefit the sports programs ever ultimately benefit the university. A common rejoinder of those that fend major university sports is that it generates money for academics.

I don't think they'll get away with writing this off for long. As a public institution they can really end up shit creek for acting secretly like this, and it is likely someone with a desire to stir up shit could FOIA these people into oblivion.

Being an undergrad you can still be critical of your school like this, but be careful about criticizing your institution once your a graduate student or professional student. For the most part undergraduates are protected from retaliation but that disappears rapidly with time (and even now if you piss the administration off they can make your life difficult).

I remember Carl Wieman, a Nobel prize winner in physics who is now entirely concerned with physics education, choosing to take a position at U. of British Columbia because they paid their football coach slightly less than an assistant professor.

Personally I wonder why they don't just hire retired marine drill sergeants as coaches. They'll do an honest day's work for a reasonable wage, and that would be the end of all the social problems with "student" athletes.

But basically, you're all screwed. Get your degree and get out of there.

F*** football.

By themadlolscien… (not verified) on 28 Jul 2008 #permalink

Coming from Europe, I was always surprised about the stranglehold of intercollegiate athletics over American universities. For a time I believed that perhaps the alumni who like football will give lots of money to the university, but, my observation is, they give to the football program! I've never heard of a science scholarship endowed by the football program.-- When I was a graduate student (at another East Coast state university), the university had the chutzpah to add a fee for intercollegiate athletics to those charged to graduate students; for $80 or so per semester, (at a time when the beginning Teaching Assistant salary was ~$350/month), one could then buy tickets at the rate paid by the general public, so there was no benefit from paying this fee.(Intramural + sports facilities accessible to common students were funded by a different fee).--
Then, the next semester, the Athletic Department proudly announced, that it was one of few which broke even! This was uncritically parroted by the student newspaper, which lauded the financial genius of that department. But we graduate students were pissed off to subsidize a program which had no benefits whatsoever for us. Perhaps it is time for the more studious to complain louder about the academic programs being shortchanged by the universities' obsession with football.--

I was going to write a comment about another example of how athletics gets the bucks while research and academics get the shaft. T. Boone Pickens had given $140 million to Oklahoma State for athletics, which I thought was shameful considering the importance of OSU as an agricultural research institution. So when I was googling for that story to check on the figure, I found this one, which is a bit more heartwarming. T. Boone Pickens donated $100 million for academics in May of this year. Maybe he's not such a bad guy after all.

Why does your university have a sport program at all?

In NZ, sport education is separate - sporty academics get involved in the uni games, which are amateur and separately funded, and academic sporty people get a degree while they train. But universities are there to teach academic subjects, not sports.

BU had its fair share of problems, to be sure, but I'm damn glad we didn't have any of this football malarkey to worry about up there. What a frickin' joke this whole college sports thing is.

The defenders always say that football generates revenue for the university, but seriously? Look at this Rutgers business. Does it generate enough revenue to cover to horrendous budget overruns on the project? Does it generate enough revenue to to repair the damage to the school's reputation caused by this scandal?

And aren't most tickets bought by students, anyway? So why not just raise tuition? You'd get a bigger, more consistent increase in revenue from that.

I think themadlolscientist said it best...

BOO Rutgers!

OPU is expanding their sports programs, too and building a giant stadium or something. Um, hello...there are more people living in Antarctica than in this state. We don't NEED a stadium.

How 'bout financial aid for students who can't afford the 30,000 dollar a year tuition insted?

GAH! I'm with themadlolscientist, FCD: f*** football.

And by "insted," I meant "instead."

See? If they'd just spend more on academics, then that kind of stuff wouldn't happen.