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Dec. 29, 2006 — Rutgers cuts don’t make ¢ents

My brother was watching a Rutgers football game the other day. And he wasn’t prideful at what he was watching. “Stupid! They’re paying the coach how much?” he spat at the television.

He graduated from Rutgers in 1982, a handful of years after the school decided to upgrade its athletic program throughout. Its football team dropped its traditional game with Princeton. The men’s basketball team, a few years after a Final Four appearance, joined a new conference called The Big East.

Much was expected, but little came out of some of the big-money hires in the so-called “revenue” sports. That is, until Greg Schiano turned Rutgers from a team without a winning record in 12 seasons into a team with a 11-2 record which was perhaps a touchdown or two away from playing for a national championship.

But, as is now being asked, at what cost? A number of varsity athletic teams are being cut or turned into pay-to-play clubs. There has also been a huge cut in state funding, and there is now talk about whether the whole exercise has been worth the effort.

Oh, sure. Rutgers’ football history is one that stretches back to 1869 with a game against Princeton which looked an awful lot like association football — soccer. It continued through the days when a young man named Paul Robeson endured taunts about the color of his skin to play with distinction. John Stiegman, in the late 1950s, became the first known coach to introduce computer technology to the game of football.

But Rutgers football history has not been distinguished in recent years. It played in the ill-fated Garden State Bowl against Arizona State in 1978 — nobody but the Sun Devils wanted to come to the frigid northern climate in December. It has played in the relatively weak Big East since 1990, and has had none or one win three times the last 11 years.

And even with Rutgers football’s rise to the national Top 10 in 2006, it was built on wins over several very weak teams such as Howard, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Ohio University.

Meanwhile, there are athletes on campus wearing the same Rutgers “R” that the football players have, and their athletic careers are being ended. My brother has a special reason to be embittered: he was the coxswain on a national champion four-oared boat in 1980, and the crew team is being eliminated even after spending large amounts of money on equipment and its physical plant since he graduated. It’s a silly decision, seeing as there’s very little to be gained from closing the team after making the investment.

And it’s the same with swimming. The school spent untold dollars building a natatorium only to cut the swim team and let the place sit empty.

Rutgers, it appears, is putting itself into the business of being a sports franchise rather than a university, something against which James Shulman and William Bowen rail in their book “The Game of Life.” And even though I write about women’s athletics, I don’t want to see them or Title IX become a scapegoat for the powaqqatsi that the “revenue” sports have become.

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