Catherine A. Lugg, a professor of education and treasurer of the faculty union, believes, as do others, that the university’s trajectory toward big-time sports began with a few outspoken members of the Board of Governors who wanted Rutgers to become a football powerhouse — and the power and tunnel vision of those members made voices of opposition irrelevant, they say. Even as things haven’t turned out as planned, the university has kept with it. “I think it’s just the proverbial snowball coming down a hill, picking up speed,” Lugg said — a few problematic decisions made years ago have been exacerbated with time.
As Lugg pointed out, Rutgers’s very geography works against a unified fan culture. The disjointed main campus is actually broken into five pieces, requiring a bus to get from one end to the other. And it sits between the two American professional sports meccas of Philadelphia and New York. While Rutgers football undoubtedly draws more of a crowd now than it did in the past, it still finished 4-8 last year. (A losing record of 59-63 over 10 seasons makes the $2 million salary of head coach Greg Schiano, already a symbol of misdirected priorities for many frustrated faculty members, even more contentious.)
“I don’t think anyone got up first thing in the morning and said, ‘We’re just going to decide to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort that won’t succeed’…. But it’s kind of like, when do you fish or cut bait?” Lugg said. “Athletics — it adds to student culture, yes, but should it displace academic mission? No. I’m a former high school athlete. I love sports. But you know, it’s an issue of priorities.”