Does Rutgers pay too much to fired coaches, athletic directors, and academic administrators?
Everyone loves a good college football game. Last season (2018), the Rutgers Scarlet Knights record in the Big Ten Conference was a dismal 1-11. And this year does not look much better. Yeah, Rutgers is in the same league with some heavy hitters like Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. But, sports talk over a beer is for another day. Today's column is about money.
When Rutgers dismissed head football coach Chris Ash and his offensive coordinator early October after a dismal start to the season, the school said goodbye with the promise of big checks. Rutgers owes Ash approximately $8.47 million and offensive coordinator John McNulty will take home about $900,000 even though they were fired, according to their contracts. Overall, Rutgers has agreed to pay more than $22.14 million to fired coaches, athletic directors, academic administrators and other top officials in the last ten years.
Think of the number of quality professors who could be hired, the amount of academic research that could be funded, and the number of students who could receive aid with that $22.7 million.
Is it time for the state to take more control of this situation?
I graduated from Rutgers with a BA in English in 1984. During my college years, Rutgers had a dismal 20-24 record under Head Coach Frank Burns. Many years later, after renovating the stadium and joining the Big 10, Rutgers has an 11-37 record under Coaches Kyle Flood & Chris Ash. Using those two measurements, one could conclude that Rutgers investment in football has been a waste of money that could have been better used elsewhere. In my opinion, such a conclusion would be wrong.
Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, Rutgers has gained national exposure, built on its brand name and increased applications, including a 15% increase in out of state applications.
While the $22.14 million paid to fired coaches, athletic directors and other top officials over the past decade is a lot of money, it needs to be put into perspective. During that same decade as it joined the Big Ten, Rutgers Athletics budget increased from $64 million to $102.5 million annually. However, according to the Rutgers Targum and NJ Advance Media, direct state support for Rutgers Athletics in 2017-2018 amounted to just 3% of that budget. New Jersey’s commitment to the full Rutgers operating Budget is better, but not by much. New Jersey contributes only 20% of the University’s $4.3 billion annual budget.
Rutgers has been the State University of New Jersey since 1956, so the control is already there. Two questions remain. When will the State step-up and do better than a meager 20% support for our State University? And if the State made the hiring decisions in the athletics department, would the outcome have been any different?
Division 1 college sports is ultra-competitive, especially for teams in athletic conferences with lucrative television contracts, as Rutgers is with the Big 10. As a result, coaches command large salaries. When teams don’t succeed, those salaries come under intense scrutiny.
The annual compensation of Nick Saban, University of Alabama head football coach, exceeds $8 million. No one questions that arrangement because Alabama is a perennial national champion, making the University enormous sums of money.
At Rutgers, coaching salaries are lucrative, but below those at other Big 10 schools. What people don’t know is Rutgers’ participation in the Big 10 is very profitable, with the football program making money and the University expected to receive $50 million in Big 10 revenue sharing. That money funds academic endeavors as well as athletics.
That’s not to say profits alone define success. Rutgers needs to be more competitive, especially in football and basketball. Given the caliber of New Jersey high school athletes, there’s no reason why Rutgers shouldn’t be successful.
As for the state taking “control of this situation,” I don't think anyone believes the state should pick Rutgers coaches. The state does, however, have enormous oversight of Rutgers athletics since a majority of the University’s Board of Governors is appointed by the New Jersey Governor with Senate confirmation. The Chair of Rutgers’ Athletics Committee is also a gubernatorial appointee.