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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My take on the President's review

As if yesterday wasn't busy enough with Big East media day, Rutgers president Richard McCormick announced he was creating a committee to review the athletic department. 

The committee will look into issues "including the transactions, contracts and relationships with sports marketing firms," all of which relates to recent revelations about the football program, most notably that Greg Schiano receives a $250, 000 bonus from Nelligan sports marketing in addition to his athletic department salary. It was also recently reported that Schiano has an out clause in his contract that would allow him to leave if the $102 million Rutgers Stadium expansion isn't completed next year. 

McCormick's plan for a review came a day after the state Comptroller's office announced it would investigate the department's financial practices. 

The review will be conducted by a committee co-chaired by Alred C. Koeppe, former president of PSE&G and former chairman of the New Jersey Higher Education Commission, and Albert R. Gamper, Jr., former chairman of the Rutgers Board of Governors. 

My $0.02 on the situation is this: There's no question the series of recent reports embarrassed the athletic department and exposed a lack of transparency. Everyone from Rutgers faculty members to Gov. Gorzine has chided the department for not being more open about the money Schiano gets from Nelligan, and for various other instances, including the cost and timely execution of the stadium expansion. But the university (and the state Comptroller's office) is overreacting. Big time. 

No one likes to be in headlines -- especially front-page headlines -- for the wrong reasons. But some people are acting like the extra $25oK Schiano is getting is coming from the Mob. In actuality, it's essentially coming from Rutgers, but in a way that allows Mulcahy to keep it off the books and allow for a little more space in his budget. The perfect way to do things? Far, far from it. Mulcahy absolutely, positively, no doubt about it, should have  made the money public knowledge when he agreed to give it to Schiano. By not being up-front about it, he made it seem like he had something to hide. That's always how it appears when anything is exposed by reporters combing through public documents. 

So the way the deal was handled was shady. But the actual deal wasn't. 

Here's what essentially happens with the money: Rutgers pays Nelligan Sports a handsome fee to market the athletic department. Nelligan then turns around and gives $250K of that money back to Schiano. So instead of it going straight from Rutgers' budget to Schiano's bank account, it goes through Nelligan first. It's a round-about way to complete a transaction, but several other high-profile coaches have their contracts structured in similar ways. 

My message to Mulcahy? Be more transparent, and you won't have any issues. This isn't USC, where they essentially pay athletes, or Penn State, where football players have been having trouble of late staying out of the police blotter. You haven't done anything wrong, so don't make it seem like you're hiding something. 

And my message to the school and the state: Calm down. This is the way big-time athletics work. Whether you like it or not, you're going to have to deal with Schiano making a salary that dwarfs most other state employees, and you're going to realize that having a marquee football team has and will continue to enhance the school's reputation and create a stronger pool of applicants. 

If you don't realize that, you're less aware of trends in higher education than you ought to be. For instance, you're surely unaware that Boston College -- a regional institution with a student body made up primarily of Irish-Catholic kids from Eastern Massachusetts until the 1980s -- is now an institution of national prominence, with a pool of elite applicants, of all races and religions, throughout the country, in no small part because of one student named Doug Flutie, who put the school on the national map with a Heisman Trophy-winning season capped by the most memorable pass in college football history. You're also unaware that, just to cite another example from the Northeast (and the Big East) UConn skyrocketed on lists of quality state universities when it started winning national championships in men's and women's basketball. 

And how many high school kids in New England had heard of Gonzaga before its Cinderalla NCAA runs of the 90s? How many kids in Texas had heard of George Mason before it shocked the world and went to the 2006 Final Four? 

The point is, Rutgers wanted success, and it got it. 

Now it has to deal with the growing pains success brings, and the best way to deal with it isn't to further embarrass your own athletic department by acting like Mulcahy leaked classified CIA information. 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ben, are you aware of reports on the NJO boards that the Star Ledger reported on the Nelligan deal back in Dec 2006?

July 30, 2008 7:23 AM 
Anonymous Not Sharpe James said...

I agree with your statement 100 percent and your analysis of the situation is right on. As a soon to be NJ resident, I can understand why residents of the Garden State maybe upset to read about Greg Schiano's lucrative contract term and the additional funding for a football stadium, when the university is experiencing turbulent times due to million dollar budget cuts. However, the blame cannot be put on Greg Schiano or the Rutgers administration. The funds are not coming from the tax payer's dollars but from private investors.

NJ residents have to open their eyes and realize that our economy is in a horrendous state. Various public universities are also struggling through budget cuts for example, FIU, UNC, UF, FSU, and University of Tennessee are eliminating classes and letting professors go. I firmly believe that big time athletics can alleviate some of the financial struggles. Rutgers football has already generated great publicity, revenues, and reinvigorated the interest of thousands of alums that will gladly open their checkbooks and donate to the school.

No matter how much the Rutgers 1000 group criticize and try to dismantle the athletic program and fantasize how their plan will convert Rutgers into the next Princeton. They must understand that will never happen. Rutgers Football will continue to be a force and transform the university not into small private Ivy-League university like Princeton, but rather into a University of Michigan or University of Virginia, where big time athletics go hand in hand with world renowned academics.

July 31, 2008 1:17 AM 

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