Rutgers basketball does not live in the world of academia
MONDAY, 26 APRIL 2010 13:17
BY EVAN WEINER
It was a rather interesting week in New Jersey educational circles. Voters said no in many locations to approving new school budgets and a subsequent tax hike yet at one of New Jersey's schools of higher education, Rutgers, it was business as usual. Rutgers got rid of head basketball coach Fred Hill after four losing seasons and gave Hill a rather hefty going away present in the vicinity of $850,000. Hill won just 47 games and lost 77. Rutgers was near the bottom of the Big East during his tenure and to make matters worse, Hill apparently started yelling at University of Pittsburgh baseball coaches during a Rutgers-Pittsburgh baseball game after the season. Hill's father coaches the Rutgers baseball team.
The Rutgers athletic director, Tim Pernetti, didn't particularly appreciate Hill's
"discussion" with the University of Pittsburgh's coaches and ordered Hill to stay away from the Rutgers-Pittsburgh baseball series. Hill didn't and Pernetti found a reason to get rid of his failing basketball coach. In a state that is billions of dollars in the hole, where education is suddenly a major budgetary item for both the Governor Chris Christie and voters, Rutgers found money to say goodbye to Hill.
This is the same university that may have to accept a merger with Thomas A. Edison State College under a budget plan proposed by Christie. This is a university that is pumping money into sports while there are budget cutbacks that will impact students at the school. College sports happens to be a part of the educational system although in the money making sports, football and basketball, the sports programs seem to trump the academics in many instances.
Big time college sports lives in a world separate from the ivy covered walls of academia although school presidents, chancellors, and board of trustees provide cover for the activities of athletic directors, coaches and manipulating television networks, sneaker companies, boosters, alums and even politicians who know that sports is a business in academia ... not an extracurricular activity.
The catch phrase "student-athlete" is sold to college sports fans but the truth is that most of the college scholarship recipients at big time college sports program are athletes first and if they have time and a want to get an education that is a plus.
The big-time college/university sports programs no longer want average fans and alums supporting them. They want customers who will spend money for premium seating and will buy junk from the concession stands and dine in stadium restaurants. Schools want well-heeled alum to support the program. Fans can watch on TV, they really are not welcomed in a stadium although there is the charade of "student-athlete" and amateurism with the college kids playing for the love of the game.
Rutgers wants to be a major player in big-time college sports. The state built a stadium with lots of gadgets for the football team and is paying Greg Schiano very handsomely, roughly $1.5 million annually through 2016. To be fair, the university doesn't pick up the entire bill - some of Schiano's money comes from TV, deals with a sneaker company and other marketing partners. The Rutgers football stadium is not just a place where football fans show up six times a year on Saturdays during the fall. The football team doesn't play all of their games on Saturday, to get additional exposure; Rutgers has played Thursday night home games during the school week to get on national TV on ESPN. Rutgers' football facility has been built with maximizing revenue in mind. Just take a look at how the stadium has been expanded over the past two years.
In 2008, club seating and lounge was added. Those seats are not cheap. In 2009, the South end zone was closed in adding 11,000 seats with a "state-of-the-art Hi-Definition scoreboard and sound system." The stadium had new concession areas (designed to get customers to spend more money) and facilities.
The next new money making area will be the 7,656-square-foot football recruiting lounge and welcome center which will be built on the mezzanine level in the new south end zone of the expanded Rutgers Stadium.
According to the Rutgers stadium website, "anticipated uses of the facility, which will seat more than 300, include: Year-round football recruiting functions. In-game entertaining of appropriate groups. High end athletics fundraising opportunities and events. Recruiting tours for all other sports on non-football recruiting days. High-end fundraising for senior level university officials and the Rutgers University Foundation."
This is serious business which seems to have very little to do with the educational side of the school.
Rutgers men's basketball team has a long way to go in matching the success of the women's team led by Vivian Stringer. The Rutgers women's team, which is one of the best programs in college sports, was slammed by a remark by radio personality Don Imus and his sidekicks in 2007 which caused CBS and MSNBC to fire Imus and elevated Stringer into a more prominent national role as the national media decided to probe into the Imus "comedy bit."
Schiano and Stringer are two of the best paid New Jersey state employees. The next men's basketball coach will join them at the top of the Garden State's employees earning list.
Rutgers now needs to replace Hill and probably will hire an experienced coach and that coach will have to more than likely break his ties with a college or university to take the Rutgers job. Big time college sports has an ethics problem. Schiano twice was approached by other schools while under contract to Rutgers but decided to stay although he did get a major extension and money upgrade from the school.
There is also something rather interesting about the Athletic Director Tim Pernetti. The Rutgers AD is not really an athletic guy. His background is television and to understand college sports, you need to understand how television has a great deal of leverage in college programs. After all, ESPN, CBS-Turner Sports, FOX and various regional sports channels are paying top dollar for college sports which really is TV programming not unlike American Idol or Glee or Dancing With the Stars or Oprah. College sports contests fill hours of programming needs.
Pernetti joined ABC Sports in 1994 and within two years, Pernetti was overseeing ABC Sports' relationship with various college conferences. In 2003, Pernetti left ABC for the new College Sports TV network and signed programming deals for the fledgling entity with numerous college programs. Pernetti joined Rutgers as the Director for Intercollegiate Athletics in April 2009.
Pernetti, the TV guy, understands the college sports industry. Rutgers is now a member of the Big East Conference but the New Brunswick university has the only big time college football program in the nation's most populated market, New York, and in the past other sports conferences have expressed an interest in adding Rutgers, not for the university's football and basketball programs, but for the market. Rutgers is an entree into the New York market. When college conferences go through the next phase of realignment to satisfy television and broadband needs, Rutgers can be a pivotal player.
New Jersey has an education problem, Rutgers has a men's college basketball problem that might have nothing to do with education and grade point averages and graduation statistics but has everything to do with wins and losses. Fred Hill is taking more than $800,000 of someone's money, whether it is state dollars, alums, boosters, sponsors, marketing partners or sneaker money or even TV money to go away. Hill would still be running the Rutgers program despite his shouting match at a baseball game had his record been 77 wins and 47 losses along with appearances in the NCAA Men's Championship Tournament.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and lecturer on "The Politics and Business of Sports" and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org