Athletics Highly Unlikely to Break Even

In a speech to faculty, Rutgers University president Jonathan Holloway addressed a reality that many in higher education aren’t willing to admit publicly: the athletic department is “highly unlikely” to break even despite increased investments and membership in a top conference.

“Only 2 percent of major college athletics programs run in the black, and not many more than that break even,” Holloway said in a budget address to the Faculty Senate last week, according to a transcript of the speech. “The better way to think about athletics is that it represents a commitment by the university that helps tell a compelling story about this institution—one that will inspire applicants, alumni and friends to learn more about [what] we have to offer as a university in 2022. In this regard, the storytelling capability of athletics far outstrips any other thing that we do at Rutgers. Some of you may not like to hear it, but this is just honest talk.”

Rutgers, a member of the vaunted Big Ten conference, has drawn scrutiny for its financial dealings in athletics, including racking up $265 million in debt since joining the Big Ten in 2014, a investigation found. Last fall, Phil Murphy, the Democratic governor of New Jersey, described the financial situation for Rutgers athletics as “quite concerning.”

Despite these financial challenges, Holloway said in his speech that athletics makes up only 2 percent of the university’s operating budget and “dissolving athletics would not solve our budget challenges.”

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