By Jon Whiten
Let's get one thing clear, right off the bat: I love football. After preferring a slew of other sports for years, in the past five years or so, I've become quite the football fan. Without getting too off-track here, let me just say that the tension, drama and strategy in football is far and above any other professional sport.
But despite what the New York Times implied in a Sept. 18 story, football isn't always the answer.
Plenty of ink has been spilled, here and in countless other outlets, on NJ's budget cuts to higher education, and the disastrous effect these cuts have on Rutgers University. But the Times' story, "Football Brightens a Grim Year," paints Rutgers football as "a welcome diversion" from the classes cut, professors fired, and financial aid denied. Sure, Rutgers' team is actually decent this year (currently undefeated at 3-0), but there are much deeper issues that should have been touched on by the "paper of record."
Instead of looking at how much money Rutgers throws into football each year, and why its budget was not touched while six other varsity sports were eliminated, the story instead focused on how football "'is uplifting the university and the state,'" as athletic director Robert E. Mulcahy III said.
As proof that football is indeed brightening a grim year, the Times gives us quotes from two alumni (ages 51 and 57) and three sources inside the Rutgers administration. The story also points to the fifth-biggest crowd in Rutgers Stadium history -- 41,102 people -- coming out to last Saturday's game against Ohio University.
The Times knows that huge amounts of money flows into -- and out of -- the Rutgers football program. Just under a month ago, the excellent story "In College Football, Big Paydays for Humiliation" revealed that Rutgers had paid Buffalo University $225,000 to add a weak team -- and hopefully a guaranteed victory -- to their schedule this year. Eventually, Buffalo backed out of the deal, because they are a highly sought after crappy football team. Mulcahy chose not to attempt to get the $225,000 back either, since he was confident that Buffalo would play Rutgers instead in 2007 (for $25,000 additional). To some, paying $250,000 for a victory while firing teachers and cutting classes might seem, dare I say, inappropriate.
But the story never revists the Times' earlier reporting on this. And it waits to give us the lone dissenting voice until the 25th paragraph -- three paragraphs from the article's conclusion. Even then, the criticism is quite tempered, as Dave Cole, the undergraduate student body president, doesn't advocate for rolling back the program, but just notes that "holding [the football team's] budget constant doesn’t seem to be outrageous."
The Times then quickly lets Rutgers president Richard L. McCormick belittle this criticism, as he puts on his best "I'm a visionary" hat: "This is not a time to retreat from ambitions. On the contrary, it’s time to think boldly and ambitiously about what we want Rutgers to be in the future."
Let the brain drain continue. Let the good times roll.
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