Union Demands “Honest Discussion” about Athletics’ Financial Drain on University
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—For a second time in less than a year, a New Jersey superior court judge has ordered Rutgers University to turn over information about the tens of millions of dollars funneled annually to its money-losing athletics program.
Earlier this week, Judge Alberto Rivas ruled that Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union representing full-time faculty, grad workers, and postdoctoral associates, must be given the in-depth financial data it requested under the state Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The judge’s order follows a similar ruling last October by Judge Michael Toto, who likewise determined that Rutgers was defying state law by withholding documents that the union hopes will explain why the athletics program remains a perennial financial drain.
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“Everyone in the Rutgers community—students, their parents, faculty, staff—is paying a steep price for athletics, but no one’s been given a chance to consider whether the price is worth paying,” said Rutgers AAUP-AFT President Rebecca Givan. “We think it’s time the administration came clean about the financial situation of Rutgers Athletics and have an honest discussion about priorities at our university.”
“Rutgers is a public institution and should freely share information about its finances with the Rutgers community and the people of New Jersey,” Givan said. “Nobody should have to sue to get basic transparency from their own public institution.”
For the last decade, Rutgers Athletics has needed an ongoing annual subsidy, generated largely through mandatory student fees and transfers from the university’s academic programs, to cover a budget deficit of between $20 million and $40 million. The budget gap has grown recently—the administration’s own unit-by-unit budget summary estimated that athletic program revenues would fall short of expenses by $57.2 million for the last school year, with another shortfall of $39.6 million expected in the current 2021–22 fiscal year.
“That’s a conscious choice,” said Mark Killingsworth, a veteran professor of economics and member of Rutgers AAUP-AFT. “These people have decided that Rutgers has got to be in big-time athletics, and they will spare no expense—particularly if it comes out of someone else’s pocket to do that.”
“Their strategy about our OPRA requests seems to be to stall and deny and stonewall, but it isn’t working,” Killingsworth added. “They have two legal black eyes now. I think Rutgers has to decide: does it want to be a football team with classrooms, or does it want to be an academic institution that prioritizes academics and operates on the basis of financial sanity?”
One major expense is head football coach Greg Schiano, who in late 2019 was signed to an eight-year, $32 million contract to return to the same job he held from 2001 to 2011. Schiano now makes $1 million more per year than he did as a head coach in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—plus the university promised to pay for half of an ambitious $150 million plan for a brand new indoor practice facility and football “command center.”
“The common wisdom was that the arrival of Coach Schiano was going to get everybody to start contributing to Rutgers, and deficits would be a thing of the past,” Killingsworth said. “Not only did that not happen, but contributions have actually fallen.”
Killingsworth is expecting the latest judicial order for the release of financial data to shed light on another huge drain on the university: an unexplained massive increase in what the administration calls “internal debt” owed by Rutgers Athletics. A sketchy summary of this “internal debt” turned over to the union last year showed a $76.1 million increase in the months after Schiano was rehired. A more recent summary puts the athletic program’s “internal debt” at $140.3 million as of January 2021, on top of $74.5 million owed to external creditors.
Rutgers AAUP-AFT General Vice President Todd Wolfson said that the union has been demanding answers about the “financial black hole” of Rutgers Athletics for years. “They need an enormous subsidy every year to keep operating—a much bigger subsidy than any other Big Ten school makes to athletics—and on top of that, they’re taking out massive loans,” Wolfson said.
“We were right in predicting that the perennial deficits run up by the athletics program wouldn’t go down over time. The pipe dream that Rutgers would become another Michigan or Ohio State, where athletics revenues contribute money to the university, isn’t happening—and there’s no reason other than wishful thinking to believe that dream will become a reality for years and years.”
Givan said the Rutgers administration needs to end its financial secrecy and participate in a transparent and honest dialogue with the university community about the athletics program. “Whether the football team wins or loses this season doesn’t change the question that we’ve been asking for years: Are any of the rest of us winners when Rutgers loses tens of millions of dollars every year on athletics?” Givan said. “That’s money that could be devoted to our core missions of education, research, and service.”
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