Rutgers’ Scarlet Knights are both bad and broke

The Rutgers University teams are aptly named the Scarlet Knights because, financially, the athletic department is bleeding red. Even in a dismal year for college bowl games, Rutgers came up both short and broke.

When it comes to the Rutger athletic department’s financial losses, we’re not talking chump change. Huge sums of money are involved:

“… after a months-long investigation involving nearly a hundred public records requests and a review of thousands of Rutgers financial documents, reporters Jean Rimbach and Abbott Koloff revealed that Rutgers athletics had lost far more than it reported to the NCAA in annual reports, showing its debt had grown to more than $250 million — with half of that being loans to cover operating deficits.

The rising costs were part of joining the Big Ten Conference in 2014, with coaches’ salaries doubling and football — the sport that traditionally brings in cash for athletics divisions — losing millions of dollars. (Emphasis added.)

To reiterate, the athletic department’s debt is not $250,

…not $2,500,

…or even $250,000

But $250,000,000.

Two-hundred-fifty-million dollars!!

Image: Rutgers’ Scarlet Knights. YouTube screen grab.

Moreover, it’s quite possible that improving athletic performance was not one of the places where the department spent all that money. Since joining the elite Big Ten in 2014, Rutgers is 33-74 overall, with 15 wins out of conference and against inferior competition. They’re a woeful 13-66, with a .164 winning percentage and three winless conference seasons within the Big Ten. Additionally, the Scarlet Knights have lost 34 of 35 contests against ranked opponents, with their last victory against a Top 25 team occurring in 2009 against South Florida, when both were members of the Big East.

Put another way, Rutgers has spent $7.57 million dollars for every win over the past nine seasons. That’s not a lotta bang for the buck, especially when you are trying to be a big-time player in the big-time sport of college football.

Even worse, as sports columnist Phil Mushnick explains, is that a lot of this wasted money came from taxpayers:

At Rutgers, 20 percent funded by N.J. taxpayers, Big Ten fever continues as a financial calamity, badly afflicting everything the prestigious university once reflected — from academic salaries to custodial services. Had to be. Just last year the Athletic Department’s mostly football deficit grew to $73 million.

Interestingly, Rutgers solicits public donations to fund its Food Pantry for regular students who can’t afford to both attend the university and eat.

No matter, RU recently was revealed to have spent $450,000 over 14 months to provide DoorDash food and amenities to its football players, many on full scholarship and aided by Pell Grants — cash grants, not loans.

Investing and losing money at the beginning of a business endeavor because of some unforeseen financial overruns is one thing. Rutgers’ conduct, however, is downright unacceptable. It demonstrates incompetency and a lack of business acumen at the highest level. Spending $7.5 million in taxpayer dollars for each win is ridiculous.

This past season just added to the offensiveness. Rutgers finished the season with a lackluster 5-8 record and didn’t even get a call to play in the postseason. At least last year, it qualified as a replacement team, although that was only because COVID prevented some schools from participating. The Knights were drilled by Wake Forest, but at least they played in a bowl game, which is one of the objectives of any college player and coach when he signs with a big-time school in a big-time conference.

Magnifying the department’s staggering business ineptness in handling the books is that participating in a bowl game is easier to achieve than it once was. This year, there are over 40 games being staged before, during, and after the holidays, culminating with a College Football Championship Game in January.

What this means is that, of the 84 participants from a pool of 130 college teams, the likelihood of ending in a bowl game is better than 60%. It is even greater when you consider that many of the bowl games have contractual tie-ins with the big conferences like the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and, of course, Rutgers league, the Big Ten.

And this year, what should have helped Rutgers was that mediocrity abounds. Several teams earned invites with 6-6 marks, while another dozen finished 7-5. Heck, even Rice qualified with a 5-7 mark. But they made it. They lost, but they were invited.

When it comes to Rutgers, it ain’t askin’ for a whole lot, not when you’re spending over seven million dollars for every win.

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