Saturday, November 18, 2006

Milton Friedman may have been correct about the Rutgers football program

by Ken Houghton

There are two major events that happened last week in Rutgers team sports. One is that the football team beat Louisville on a last-second field goal. The other is that the Rutgers-Newark Economics Team qualified for the finals of the FED Challenge.

There are differences: Rutgers football achieved a Top Ten ranking for the first time in a long time, if not ever. The FED Challenge Team, on the other hand, qualified for the finals for the second year in a row (though 2005 was the first year they ever qualified).

But only one of those—you can guess which—resulted in an e-mail from Richard L. McCormick declaring it "a triumph of teamwork and dedication on the part of our players and their coaches" and declared
As a national spotlight shone on our campus, our Rutgers players carried themselves and represented their university with poise and determination. And our students, alumni, faculty, and staff, along with fans all over the state, demonstrated tremendous spirit in support of the team. I thank you all for your pride and enthusiasm.

Nine days later, the unheralded University of Cincinnati Bearcats became bowl-eligible and likely ended Rutgers's one-week run in the College Football Top Ten.

In the interim, as noted here and here, Milton Friedman died. The relationship between the two includes that Friedman was a long-time opponent of spending money on his alma mater's football program, as this Star-Ledger article (from before the loss yesterday) notes.
And while admitting that most universities rarely turn a profit on a football team, [Rutgers] officials said increased ticket sales and a trip to a postseason Bowl Championship Series game could help defray the $13 million it costs to run the team, perhaps even help fund other programs.

And I gave at the office. (Having, in the interim, been eliminated from any realistic possibility of playing a BCS game only makes this statement more absurd.)

Note the hope held out—"perhaps even help fund other programs"—probably believed by those same people who claim (exception noted for the state of Georgia) that lottery monies "go to fund education."

As it turns out, though, Friedman may have been correct even if one limits consideration solely to the athletic department:
But as Rutgers is enjoying its gridiron success, it's also axing six intercollegiate sports, as part of efforts to save money after the state cut more than $66 million in school funding. At the same time, more of the money that is available is going into the football program....

"Once you pull the plug on these six sports, they're never coming back," [Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex, Chairman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee] said.

The sports to go are men's heavyweight crew, men's lightweight crew, men's fencing, men's swimming and diving, men's tennis and women's fencing.

And it's not as if the tradeoff is going to make football profitable:
A Rutgers report to the U.S. Department of Education for the 2004-05 year, the latest available, shows the football program breaking even with $10.7 million in revenue. But that included nearly $3 million in university support and student fees, Wooding said.

against a "savings"
Rutgers athletics officials have said...eliminating the sports will save about $800,000 the first year.

And ignoring the BCS optimism, Bowl games aren't exactly found money:
Rutgers received $1.25 million for last year's Insight Bowl appearance, its first bowl appearance in decades. But after paying for everyone to go to the game, including players, coaching staff, additional university officials and family members, the university was $19,000 in the red.

That's a long string of money-losing activity against a possible payoff some time in the future.

And the future just moved at least another year away.
University of Chicago's decision to get out of the big ten is proving more and more prophetic. I like the model, too, of getting out while you're ahead: have one of your players Jay Berwanger) win the Heisman trophy, then shut down the program. (Granted, I'm sure it was more than a bit contentious at the time.)
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