Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Background

In a Targum column published on April 2, 2009, an undergraduate named Matthew Stein allowed as how the amount Rutgers is pouring down the drain of Div IA athletics was just fine with him. In his own words: "If athletics supplies that much of its own revenue and the University only gives less than 1 percent of its entire budget to the athletic department, I see no reason to even have this discussion anymore."

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By "that much," Stein was referring to figures released by the McCormick administration, saying that the athletics department "has a $55 million budget, about 3 percent of the University's overall budget. About $40 million of the $55 million is generated by athletics itself, and about $15 represents university subsidy, which amounts to less than 1 percent of the University's entire budget."

We do not mean to suggest that Matthew Stein is an unwitting stooge of Richard McCormick and the athletics department. Heavens no. But we do want to suggest that, given the history of the athletics program since 1994, that a bit of scepticism about such statistics is in order.

To that end, we offer, with permission, an e-mail recently sent by one Rutgers alumnus (class of '53) to a friend.

 

Dear _____:

Thanks for sending young Stein's Targum column.

As you might know, this is a standard scenario. The administration unloads a bunch of statistics on some gullible kid who writes for the Targum, who then obediently repeats them in print. In Lawrence's day, they usually made one of the Targum sportswriters their publicity channel.

The statistics are always grossly manipulated. But even if they weren't, there would still be a great deal of statistical legerdemain going on. Consider, for instance, the claim that "about $15 million represents university subsidy."

The unwisdom of pouring money down the drain of commercialized athletics can be seen right here.

Imagine -- it's a stretch, but just suppose -- that the statistics that McCormick gave this Targum columnist were genuine and correct.

Even granting that, a $15-million-a-year subsidy of Schiano and Stringer's franchises would be utterly deplorable as long as regular Rutgers students were walking around a slum campus, going to class in deteriorating classrooms, living in residence halls that consistently win Princeton Review's "dorms like dungeons" award, while trying to deal with course cutbacks and services impoverished by staff layoffs.

It's significant, for instance, that the adminstration has recently been trumpeting a "classroom renovation project" to try to offset the public relations damage being done by Div IA sports. "Vice President of University Facilities" Antonio Calcado has, for instance, been earnestly saying that the ugly and depressing classroom situation at Rutgers is about to be relieved by -- his example -- replacing blackboards in some classrooms with whiteboards.

The important thing is the total amount being spent on the "classroom renovation project": $15 million.

You'll remember that even McCormick admits that the athletics department deficit -- every year -- is $15 million.

Imagine that that $15 million had, every year since Rutgers entered the deplorable "Big East" conference, been spent for academic purposes: seminar rooms, lecture halls, solidly built dormitories, and wholesale improvement of the "slum campus" that drives so many top high school seniors away from Rutgers.

How much would then have gone for academic purposes? The answer: $225 million.

The real tragedy of commercialized Div IA athletics at Rutgers, aside from the steady erosion of academic and intellectual values, is its story of pure waste. To paraphrase the late Everett Dirkson, "You spend a hundred million here and a hundred million there, pretty soon it starts to add up to real money."

 

Cordially,

J____ M ________