By Patricia Alex, Staff Writer, The Record.
With its entry into the prestigious Big Ten conference less than two weeks away, Rutgers University is hoping to entice donors and alumni to support a series of multimillion-dollar upgrades to its sports venues — even as it projects a deficit of more than $183 million over most of the next decade for its athletic department, already the most heavily subsidized in the nation.
The most ambitious idea — pegged at a cost of as much as $60 million — would involve construction of a new training and practice facility for the football and basketball teams, according to a person briefed on the concept being floated by Athletic Director Julie Hermann. Rutgers had upgraded the existing football training center five years ago at a cost of $12.5 million.
Rutgers, which enters the Big Ten on July 1, is considering building a $60 million training center for football and basketball near High Point Solutions Stadium, above, in Piscataway.
An artist’s rendering showing a plan to renovate the Louis Brown Athletic Center that has apparently been scrapped. The plan had been promoted by former Athletic Director Tim Pernetti before he was forced to resign last year.
Boosters say the new spending is an investment that is necessary to make the school competitive in the new league, which holds the promise of lucrative television contracts and stronger ticket sales.
“The cost of competing in the Big Ten is going to increase greatly,” said Ron Garutti, an alumnus and donor. “You have to invest money to make money. … This is going to be wonderful for Rutgers in the long run.”
But some wary faculty members fear that the strategy is also likely to escalate the so-called “arms race” of sports spending that has saddled the university with significant debt, leaving little money in the future to repair aging classrooms, provide essential courses or keep tuition and student fees from rising.
“This is going to suck endless money out of the academic mission for at least eight or nine years,” said Mark R. Killingsworth, an economics professor at Rutgers who has studied the athletic department’s balance sheets.
While Rutgers has not gone public with the concept of a new practice site, interviews and a review of documents depict a university willing to go into debt to compete in the Big Ten, which includes powerhouses such as the University of Michigan and Penn State.
Rutgers diverted nearly $47 million to cover a deficit in athletic spending last year, according to reports filed with the NCAA, the association that regulates college sports. The money came from the school’s operating budget and mandatory student fees. Rutgers’ own projections call for deficits to continue through 2022, even with an estimated infusion of $200 million in added revenue expected from participation in the Big Ten over the course of the next dozen years.
The deficit was in part the result of a far-reaching scandal in the athletic department that shook not only the sports world but the entire university last year, leading to the firing of the men’s basketball coach for mistreatment of his players and the ouster of the previous athletic director for his failure to discipline the coach.