X’s and O’s are for Sports, not for Institutional Management

By Cathy Lueers

I recently watched in episode of HGTV where a couple bought a house for $900,000 with the thought they would flip it and pocket a quarter million. A week after the closing, they discovered the framework was riddled with mold and the attic was filled with asbestos.

Lofty thoughts not only don’t work well for uninformed homebuyers, but they can especially have devastating effects on colleges’ sports programs who promise national brand exposure but require tens, if not hundreds of millions to build their flailing program.

In an article published by Inside Higher Ed (December 1, 2020), Rutgers University is the latest big university to have a foul called for lack of delivering on promised budget neutrality. Like many to most sports programs, Rutgers has required massive transfers from the general
university funds to build or enhance its football stadium and facilities. The promise was that as the teams would attract better players and an overall heightened brand awareness, the revenue generated from donations, ticket sales, tv contracts, and concessions, would payback and even grow the university. Wrong. Rutgers now finds itself under the scrutiny of
beleaguered faculty, who have simultaneously seen sports facilities constructed and faculty be cut. In the same year the sports program has amassed internal debt of $121.5 million, over 1000 staff and adjunct faculty were let go. Do these X’s and O’s have a direct correlation? Ask
the faculty and you’re sure to get a nod. Rutgers by no means stands alone as dozens of other big programs are faced with internal debt from implementing the same “HGTV It’ll pay off” mentality.

But what about the students and parents who ultimately act as the providers to this foolish nonsense? They are the innocent bystanders seeking an education, but who find that comes with a 10,000 pound ball and chain. And more importantly, how can that impact the decision-making process around college? After all, it will be the students and families who will be lugging debt into their late-30s if the system doesn’t change.

For students entering the college decision queue, peeling back the line item costs to see how much of their tuition and “fees” are allocated to generic student services can be hard to difficult to find. A broader and better
approach is for students to use their own offense by right-sizing their decision to ensure personal affordability, utilizing AP credits to shorten degree length or enable paid internships, and to leverage test scores to increased institutional merit



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