Athletics and Academics: Perfect Together

Richard L. McCormick, President
As submitted; published in the Star-Ledger on February 3, 2008

In Charlottesville, crowds of 60,000 watch the University of Virginia Cavaliers play winning football in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In Ann Arbor, more than 100,000 pack the University of Michigan stadium to see the Wolverines compete in the Big Ten. In Berkeley, the University of California Golden Bears draw more than 70,000 fans. These state universities have world-class academic reputations. They also recognize the pride and excitement that outstanding, well-supported football programs bring to their campuses, their alumni, and their states. New Jersey deserves a state university whose educational distinction and gridiron greatness are both statewide passions, and expanding Rutgers Stadium moves us in this direction.

Rutgers already is nationally regarded as an excellent public research university—one of only two New Jersey institutions, along with Princeton, to have earned membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities. Rutgers boasts outstanding programs in a wide range of disciplines—from history and criminal justice to elementary particle and string theory. Now we’re gaining the football reputation to match our academic accomplishments.

Under the leadership of Coach Greg Schiano, Rutgers has earned three straight bowl invitations and has captured the imagination of millions of people in the state and across the region. Twice in the past two years, the Scarlet Knights have defeated teams ranked in the top 5 on national television—once with the Empire State Building lit up in Rutgers colors. Our players have earned awards for their football talents and academic achievements, and Schiano was named 2006 Coach of the Year.

As a result, pride and interest in the Scarlet Knights have grown significantly, with benefits extending across the university. Surveys show awareness of Rutgers has risen nationwide. We have seen a 65 percent jump in prospective students and their parents taking the admissions tour, a 31 percent surge in university fundraising, and a record number of applications.

This is the right time to expand Rutgers Stadium to accommodate more fans, for reasons of both state pride and sensible university planning.

Rutgers’ plan, approved by the Board of Governors after a year of financial analysis and architectural design, will be funded entirely by the revenue that will be generated from ticket sales for the 14,000 new seats and from private donations. No public money will be used to fund the expansion. The project will have no impact on tuition, nor will it take away resources from academic programs. In fact, students will still have access to tickets free of charge.

The university will finance the majority of the project through $72 million in Rutgers bonds to be repaid through increased ticket sales and other revenues that the expansion will generate. The remaining $30 million will come from donations, including a million-dollar gift from Governor Jon S. Corzine. Our governor believes so much in the value of this project that he and Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, a Rutgers graduate, have announced that they will lead the fundraising effort as private citizens.

The continued success of the Scarlet Knights football program is an important goal for the university—just as is the continued success of our philosophy department, our cell and DNA repository, and our women’s and gender studies programs. Academics and athletics reinforce each other. Rutgers is committed to excellence in both endeavors. At great research universities, both contribute to the institution’s quality and reputation. That’s why Rutgers has invested not only in athletics but also in new or renovated laboratories, classrooms, residence halls, and student life facilities. In fact, our spending on such projects amounts to more than $700 million over the past five years—or 25 times more than was spent on athletic facilities.

Some very thoughtful people have criticized the plan, arguing that other needs should take priority at a time of scarce university resources. But one of the things a university should do in such times is to find new sources of revenue. Expanding the stadium will help generate new revenue at Rutgers. What’s more, it will respond to the growing demand among New Jersey residents, especially those who have already made deposits on 10,000 new season tickets.

We are not taking funds from another area of the university to pay for the expansion. It is self-supporting in the short term and moves the athletic department, which now is subsidized by general university funds, toward financial self-sufficiency in the long run. Expanding the stadium contributes to the excellence of the football program and increases its ability to generate revenue. This will free up university funds that can be redirected to finance superior academic and research programs going forward.

New Jersey citizens have long had reason to celebrate the academic strength of their state university. Now they have a football team earning the kind of cheers in New Jersey that echo from Ann Arbor to Berkeley to Charlottesville each fall—and a stadium to accommodate them. That’s good for Rutgers and it’s good for the Garden State.