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EDITORIAL: Athletics Department deficit must lead to budget reevaluation

The Rutgers Athletics' debt should be the push Rutgers needs to reevaluate spending on sports

The Rutgers Athletics Department's $265 million deficit is only being worsened by inessential spending. – Photo by Olivia Thiel

Rutgers Athletics sparks mixed responses in our student body from the truly die-hard to the apathetic. But love them or hate them, Athletics can bring in more than $100,000,000 in revenue annually, a sum which does not even consider the indirect impact that a successful athletic department can have on Rutgers as a whole.

But that does not mean that Athletics is immune to scrutiny or mistakes or that Rutgers should be writing them blank checks.

Athletics has to make more responsible spending decisions and work to justify those decisions while the University simultaneously makes cuts to academic programs for the sake of our school's reputation and academic strength.

Just recently, The Daily Targum published a second special report detailing what could be seen as irresponsible spending by the department, contributing to its $265 million deficit. Spending included laser pointers, crowd noise machines, car service for one lone athlete, upgrades in coaches’ offices and a very innovative sleeping pod for the basketball team.

While some athletic expenditures are necessary and have the potential to bring in more revenue, many are not. It might cost money to recruit top athletes, hire the best coaches, give athletes the facilities necessary to hone their skills and create an enjoyable experience for spectators, but laser pointers and nap pods have nothing to add.

It takes money to make money with college athletics, but this does not mean that the department should have a free hand with all its spending. “After six years in the Big Ten, its football team’s playing and financial performance remain abysmal,” said Forbes, and they are not wrong. The investment in the Athletics Department is consistently failing.

Athletics should engage in responsible spending, especially at a time when the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is still a significant concern. If the pandemic somehow worsens again, revenue sources for both the Athletics Department and the University as a whole can easily be impacted.

Moreover, “Considering the amount of money that flows in and out of intercollegiate athletics budgets, it will continue to be important to scrupulously and consistently record and report expenditures and revenues of individual programs so that meaningful trends and benchmarking can occur,” said a 2013 report. This statement still holds water nearly 10 years later.

Additionally, “the inconsistent literature regarding athletics’ impact on … institutions, research efforts should continue to better determine the true impact — including the opportunity costs associated with subsidizing athletics,” the report said.

No matter how much you love Rutgers Athletics, you cannot deny that academics is at the core of any university and should come first. Rutgers cannot ethically allow Athletics to go into millions of dollars of debt while also cutting the budgets for dozens of departments across the board.

Rutgers faculty are still suffering from "restrictions on travel and discretionary spending," according to the Targum, and some departments are still constrained by a hiring freeze — disadvantages that Athletics does not appear to see.

It is imperative that Rutgers makes financial decisions that benefit the school as a whole, not a select few athletes and their fans. This would include funding the academic departments who need the most help, continuing to fund research and using the University's academic success as a tool for recruitment.

One major academic attraction is the many research opportunities on campus. As flashy as athletics are, research opportunities are bound to bring students to campus and could just as easily be used as a selling point for the University.

The $265 million deficit has brought the issue of athletic spending to light, but now Rutgers now needs to carefully look at the Athletics' budget and both cut spending (or in this case, borrowing) where possible as well as make sure that the spending actually benefits the athletes who put their bodies on the line for an education.

While Rutgers Athletics brings value to the University, the cost of maintaining that department is ever higher. Steps must be implemented to rein in spending decisions and make choices that are equitable for the school as a whole, not just for athletic administrators. Reining in spending is not an indictment of athletes, or what school sports have to bring to the table (financially and otherwise), but at this point in time, a necessity. 

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 153rd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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