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Rutgers professors suing over financial support to athletics department

The union representing professors at Rutgers is suing the university over a $100 million transfer to the athletics department. The news was first reported by Bloomberg.

The union is not suing to stop the transfer -- that's already been done. Rather, the union wants the university to disclose details and documents related its financial support of the Scarlet Knights' athletics department. The union says the school has not responded to open records requests.

“The amounts are just staggering,” said Rutgers associate professor and chair of the union's budget committee Andrew Goldstone. “We’ve known for years about the subsidy to athletics that comes out of student fees and general appropriations from the university. That makes less and less sense in the era of COVID, when the athletics program will have an even harder time getting to the break-even point.

“But then there’s this loan book, which they call ‘internal debt,’ that ballooned from $45.4 million to $121.5 million in a single year. And the university refuses to release any information about it: where the money came from, whether there’s an interest rate, when it will be repaid, if it will ever be repaid, and, above all, what on earth they’re spending $76 million on.”

The university has laid off 20 percent of its adjunct faculty, applied furloughs to some remaining faculty and has declared a fiscal emergency in response to the covid-19 pandemic.

The great irony here is the Knights' joining of the Big Ten was supposed to help solve the athletics department's financial problems, not exaggerate them. The Big Ten distributed a record $55.6 million to its full-shared member schools in 2018-19, but Rutgers and Maryland are still not receiving full shares despite joining the conference in 2014.

The Knights are certainly earning much more even as partial Big Ten members than they would as full American members, but Big Ten membership has required a greater investment, and the bill for those investments is due now while the benefits are still to come.

Part of that investment is the 8-year, $32 million contract the university gave Greg Schiano late last year, which the professors' union made sure to mention in its complaint.

Last year, Rutgers doubled down on its investment in athletics by signing new head football coach Greg Schiano to a staggering eight-year, $4 million-a-year contract—$1 million per year more than he was paid to coach in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The university also promised to pay for half of an ambitious $150 million plan from Schiano for a brand new indoor practice facility and football command center. Schiano had a losing record (11–21) with the Buccaneers and broke .500 (68–67) during his 2001–11 run at Rutgers.

On the field, Rutgers has posted a 7-45 record in Big Ten play, including three winless campaigns. The Knights will carry a 21-game conference losing skid into the 2020 season.

“Some people still believe that this program will turn a profit the way most other Big Ten athletic programs do,” Goldstone said. “A school like Michigan brings in much more in ticket sales and TV revenue and gifts than its athletics program costs to run. But the experience at Rutgers is the opposite: the goal is so far away that it never gets met. The ‘someday’ when they’ve promised Rutgers Athletics will break even might as well be ‘never.’”

Obviously, the Rutgers professors' union is not an impartial observer to this issue. They're going to slant the facts as far in their clients' favor as they possibly can, to the detriment of the athletics department.

But, surely, Rutgers's university administration never imagined it would be caught in the middle of this academics vs. athletics fight when it joined college athletics' richest conference a full six years ago.