I didn’t expect to spend a summer weekend hollerin’ about Rutgers again, but here we are.
On Friday, Steve Politi of NJ.com took a look at the financials in the Big Ten, and took issue with the massive revenue disparity between the Ohio States, Michigans, and hell, Iowas, and Rutgers. Thanks to their shiny new TV deal, Michigan is projecting to earn a whopping $51.1 million dollars in 2018 from the league. That’s more than plenty of schools make in a year, period.
But not every conference school will share equally in that bounty, at least, not yet. Rutgers will make a paltry (in comparison, anyway) $11.6 million. Just like when other programs like Nebraska and Maryland joined the league, Rutgers won’t pull in a full revenue share until 2020-2021.
Politi argued that this was a bad deal for Rutgers, even if it was one they absolutely had to take. The rest of Big Ten internet responded essentially with, “yeah, but you’re Rutgers.”
Is Politi right? I don’t personally think so. But even if he is, I don’t think it matters. It doesn’t change the questionable rationale behind the Rutgers addition, and it certainly won’t quell any Big Ten fan upset about the addition.
The argument here, fleshed out a little more in a follow-up column from Politi, goes a little like this, if I am understanding it correctly: The Big Ten is now flush with even more cash thanks to their fancy new TV deal, aided in large part because of the addition of new TV sets thanks to a greater presence in the New York TV market. As far as BTN goes, the addition of Rutgers (and Maryland) has been a big success. Adding East Coast schools has made the league money. Other league schools profiting off of Rutgers, without sharing with Rutgers, may be what they were able to negotiate, but perhaps that’s not good for competitive balance.
And that’s especially true given that Rutgers entered the league dramatically behind when it came to infrastructure, from stadium renovations to facility upgrades, and would need even more money to help them catch up. A huge revenue disparity between Rutgers and the rest of the league makes it even harder for them to catch up, leading to more games like, well, this.
To this I say, yes, both of those things are probably true. But so what?
Does Rutgers need that money? Sure. But let’s not pretend that Rutgers would suddenly be a financial peer even if they were getting closer to a full share right now. Rutgers’ athletic department had a whopping $39 million dollar SHORTFALL in the 2016 fiscal year. The school is already borrowing against future Big Ten money, to go along with a massive subsidy from the school itself.
Rutgers may get a full share in a few seasons, but it won’t be able to plunk down big checks like the rest of the league for years after that. Assuming Big Ten revenue levels remain at this very high level (which, after the TV deal expires just two seasons after Rutgers starts getting a full share, is no guarantee), we’re looking at potential decades before their financial house is truly in order.
This school was added to be a cash grab. So might as well grab that cash while you can, if they’re going to be behind the eight ball no matter what.
And while we’re talking about cash grabs, which Rutgers has indisputably helped, we need to answer a more important question.
Why should anybody care?
Yeah, adding Rutgers over say, Kansas, or some other non NJ/NY area program, probably leads to each Big Ten school getting an extra five or six million dollars a year (remember, league payouts would have likely increased if the Big Ten had added somebody other than Rutgers, too) over the course of this (short) deal. But so what?
Are Big Ten programs adding new sports thanks to their largess? It hasn’t happened yet. Are they kicking that TV increase back into the general scholarship fund? Does the difference between $51 million in conference payouts and $43 million in conference payouts change the fan experience, or even the trajectory of football or basketball programs in a meaningful way? It’s very hard to argue it does, especially if you’re a fan of an already rich program, like say, Ohio State.
Nobody gets a bowl invitation because they got the biggest conference check. There is no trophy for it. It’s a meaningless thing to brag about.
But the addition of Rutgers does impact the fan experience and day to day performance of football and basketball programs. It means fewer games between traditional opponents for your favorite teams. It means an RPI anchor in basketball and baseball. It means an expensive road trip. And it means a lot of unwatchable games.
We must be fair, Rutgers does not suck at all sports. They boast a solid men’s lacrosse program that has given the Big Ten near unmatchable depth in the sport, and could compete for a deep tournament run next season. They’re a very respectable wrestling program in what is an outstanding league. They’re a good women’s soccer program.
But in the sports that most fans care about, football, men’s basketball and baseball, Rutgers absolutely sucks. And they’re not likely to improve any time soon.
Will that vaunted New York TV market matter in a world where geographic market density is less important, as the rights market moves towards a more digital direction? The league better hope so. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t.
I get that Rutgers fans are in a tough spot. They didn’t ask for decades of institutional and administrative neglect towards their athletic department, making a rise to athletic competence a long, hard road. Maybe the best course of action is to just embrace that scorn. But chanting “TV MARKET” won’t do much good to assuage a fan who is mad that they won’t play Nebraska or Maryland in baseball because they have to play Rutgers, or that they have two games with a sub 120 RPI basketball program, or that they have to watch this on BTN.
Maybe the TV deal was bad. Maybe it was good. But big picture wise, it doesn’t really change much. Unless you’re a Rutgers athletic administrator, a fan who lives in New York that wants a short trip, or a lacrosse fan, this move still doesn’t have many reasons to be excited about.