Chasing Big Sports Goals, Rutgers Stumbles Into a Vat of Red Ink


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Ah, how grandness beckoned. When Rutgers officials announced in 2012 that their university would join the Big Ten, one of the nation’s premier athletic conferences, the sun itself seemed to burn brighter.

Teams from Rutgers, New Jersey’s state university, would battle mighty Ohio State and Michigan. High school seniors would forward applications by the truckload. And the money from those gilded television contracts — oh, good God, that money would pour in.

“It’s a transformative day for Rutgers University,” Tim Pernetti, the athletic director then, told reporters.

I recently placed a call to Mark Killingsworth, a Rutgers economics professor and football fan, and asked about that transformation. He sighed. He had led a faculty revolt against Rutgers’s money loser of an athletic department, which continues to siphon off tens of millions of dollars intended for academics.

Rutgers is a fine school, but David Hughes, an anthropology professor and the president of the faculty union, noted that 30 percent of the curriculum is taught by contract teachers, many of them paid like piecework seamstresses. And Rutgers’s tuition costs rank high nationally.

Rutgers joined the Big Ten in 2014, but won’t receive a full share of conference revenues until 2021.CreditDenis Tangney Jr/Getty Images

“It’s not rocket science; this program is a mess,” Killingsworth said of the athletic program. “We are not champions at much, but our deficit is the biggest in the Big Ten.”