A House of Cards Aflutter

Another shoe is dropping on the reckless Rutgers stadium expansion as Trenton warlord Ray Lesniak (himself a Rutgers alum) is quoted in the Star Ledger expressing profound worry about the economics: “Lesniak yesterday said if Rutgers plans to increase the overall cost of the project beyond $102 million, ‘I’d want to find out where the additional dollars are going to come from.’ He said he doubts additional money could either be found in state coffers or collected through his current fundraising campaign.”

The Ledger, meantime, reports that insiders are saying stadium construction bids came in promiscuously over budget — at least $18 million (17%) over the initial $102 million plan.

Where is that extra money coming from?

Right now, nobody even knows where the $30 million Lesniak and Gov. Seatbelt Corzine supposedly are raising in private contributions is in fact coming from. Supposedly they’ve raised less cash than you’d expect to see in a Skid Row mission collection box (thus Lesniak’s — “don’t look at me” when asked about the extra monies now needed to pursue stadium expansion).

According to reporter Pat Alex in the Bergen Record, Corzine and Lesniak have raised $250,000 of the $30 million (and keep in mind Corzine personally pledged $1 million). That’s some showing of intense fan support!

Alex also reports that Rutgers so far has spent $13 million on the stadium work done thus far — money that Rutgers is forced to borrow.

And she throws in this zinger: “‘This is a debacle; they already dug up half the place and now they find they don’t have the money for construction,’’ said the source with knowledge of the plans. He said the university went ahead with construction without firm plans or financing in place. ‘“It’s out of control,’ he said.”

What’s the likely scenario for Rutgers stadium now? Expect delay, delay, and more delay. Even sports mad Louisville has stumbled with its football stadium expansion — and that is despite a $10 million donation by the Papa Johns founder. In New Brunswick, we hear the biggest single donation so far has been 72 Miller Lite beer cans, empty but good for the recycling monies!

At Old Queens, senior administrators are apparently ducking for cover as the farcical stadium expansion plans blow up in their faces. Heads will roll, we hear, and mutterings on College Ave. say 70 year-old Sweaty Mulcahy III may be in line to take the fall. For him of course this is deja vu all over again because his dismissal from the NJ Sports and Exposition Authority reportedly was triggered by chronic over-spending.

Either way — this situation will only get uglier. The $18 million excess is just round one in a state where public construction never comes in on budget. Some experts are muttering the eventual price would top $150 million, assuming Phase 2 of the expansion actually happens. Our bet is that it won’t, not with the state’s coffers already empty and Rutgers forced to lay off teachers and cancel classes just to make up the latest round of state budget cuts.

At least we are in for mirthful times. Watching Mulcahy III, Slick McCormick, and Schiano wrestling with high finance is as deep a belly laugh as watching the Three Stooges try to explain Godel’s Incompletenesss Theorems. Pass the popcorn, we can’t wait for this show to start.

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9 Responses to A House of Cards Aflutter

  1. Grumpy alum says:

    It probably is too much to expect some accountability for this nightmare, but, hell, I’d like some anyway. If I remember correctly, this ludicrous plan wasn’t even put forward in full detail to the university community before it was voted on by the Fran Lawrence clones that make up the BoG.

  2. Grumpy alum says:

    Why does this sound so utterly typical of Rutgers? Why can’t this school show properly foresight and restrain, at a time of fiscal crisis, too? I supported McCormick when he arrived, hoping for the start of a long overdue new era, but all I see is more of the same that we got under Lawrence- the running of this university into the ground for dreams of sprting glory. From the Record linked above:

    Rutgers spokesman E.J. Miranda said Phase I of the project – the construction of 1,000 luxury seats on the mezzanine level – is “on time and on budget” and will open as scheduled at the beginning of the season in September.

    But one source with knowledge of the project disputed that contention.

    “They’ve already used money from Phase II for Phase I,’’ the source said.

    Mulcahy vowed that construction of 13,000 bench seats in the end zone will be completed without busting the budget. But he and Miranda would not say what might have to go to get that done. Construction crews have excavated the site already.

    “This is a debacle; they already dug up half the place and now they find they don’t have the money for construction,’’ said the source with knowledge of the plans. He said the university went ahead with construction without firm plans or financing in place. “It’s out of control,” he said.

  3. School Spirit says:

    I was wondering if one of the RU1000 members could commnet on why state schools such as Michigan, Cal, Virginia, Texas, Florida, etc. can be better than Rutgers at both athletics and academics? Why can Rutgers not even attempt to do both in your eyes? Finally, why does the RU1000 seem to believe Rutgers is an Ivy League school when, in actuality, it is a state university? The biggest problem at RU is the lack of alumni support. Sad that our state school is finally filling a very small stadium and the plans to increase its size are met with such disdain.

  4. Alum from the Banks says:

    School Spirit, good questions to ask, but they all have pretty straight forward answers.

    1. The only schools on your list that are hands down better all-around in academics are Cal (Endowment $2.8 Billion) and Michigan (Endowment $7.1 Billion). They both receive more public funding and have more money than Rutgers (Endowment $654 Million) will ever see.

    2. Rutgers cannot attempt this right now when they have close to half a billion dollars in deferred maintenance and struggle financially with their operating budget. Is building a new lavish football recruit lounge more important that keeping buildings like Voorhees hall from flooding regularly? The money is simply not there to do both. Don’t ask Rutgers 1000 this, ask Norman Glickman, the Rutgers Economics Prof, who is a Rutgers Football fan, and still thinks that the University is going about the stadium expansion poorly.

    3. No one on the RU 1000 site claims anything about Rutgers being an Ivy League school. Rutgers University has in the past tried to promote itself as a “Public Ivy.” Once we get our academics to the level of UC Berkeley and Michigan, then we can start thinking about whether bulking up our sports programs is worthwhile….and we have a long way to go.

    4. Alumni support is not Rutgers biggest problem and football is not the answer. It’s state support that we have to worry about (Read: Gov. John Corzine attends RU football games. Did that prevent $30 million from being cut this year?). I don’t believe that our biggest donors come from increased football prestige, but how about we all wait and see what this year’s numbers are from the University Foundation.

  5. Huck says:

    School Spirit,
    Quite simply, Rutgers is in a zero sum game. Regardless of the details of where the money should come from there is a limited amount. Not one of the schools you listed went from where Rutgers is now to dual academic-athletic success via dumping money into football.
    All the money so far spent is sunk costs and must rationally be ignored in considering a decision on future direction. The question that needs to be asked is “how does Rutgers get the maximum benefit from the money available?” Football is not the answer.

  6. School Spirit says:

    Alum from the Banks, I appreciate your response. Maybe I am misinterpreting what you wrote. Are endowments not increased in size through private donor gifts? Is this not primarily achieved through alumni support? How does Princeton have a $15 billion endowment while Rutgers has a $640 million one? RU is one of the largest univewrsities by number of students enrolled each year. However, there is zero school spirit. Therefore, less financial support from its alums. You wrote the other schools that you deem better than RU have much larger public support and endowments than RU. It is sad to see how small our endowment is in comparison when we have been around longer than those schools and have as many, if not more, alums. Maybe some school spirit would lead to an increase in future private donations. Sad that those that are for having a successful sports team and those that are for a better academic university can not work together. I always thought that Rutgers stressed diversity in their teachings; it is sad that those that are supposed to be the academic elite will not be objectionable in certain matters.

  7. Grumpy alum says:

    School Spirit,

    I’m a touch confused how you and other equate school spirit entirely with sporting success. From my own experience, I would say there is little school spirit at Rutgers because the university treats students so badly and provides them with such mediocre facilities. In my considered opinion, spending money rebuilding this campus, providing top-class libraries, study spaces, and programs would go far further than letting the campus fall further into disrepair while throwing money at a football program. I remember reading an old Rutgers 1000 article that compared the Alexander Library to the Hale Center – a most telling comparison! One was run down, dirty, crowded,with disgusting scribblings on the desks; the other a granite-clad, no-expense-spared palace. And now with the stadium, the divison between the decaying campus and the gold-plated football program is becoming yet more stark. Students feel this. They notice when they see crowded classrooms and decaying buildings, and the message is clear: Rutgers does not consider you a priority. It is more concerned with building a luxury lounge for potential recruits and wasting money on Texas holidays for athletic staff. 12 years ago, the school was ranked #44 in the nation by US News. Now it’s #59 or 60. What does that say to bright students thinking of coming here?

    In my opinion, the McCormick administration is shaping up to leave this university in worse shape than Lawrence ever did.

  8. hinson32 says:

    I for one would rather see Rutgers have a good football program than English department.

  9. School Spirit says:

    Grumpy, you definitely are confused because in no way did I say school spirit is entirely due to success on the athletic field. However, it is pretty obvious success in athletics often leads to larger donations to one’s school. The RU1000 seems to just love whining and complaining about matters instead of trying to find a reasonable solution for all parties involved instead of just the way they see it.

    One other note dropping from #44 to #59 in 12 years is a very small change year over year and we did not start “dumping” money into football until the last 4 years according to your “Texas” trip theory so what was the excuse for our academic ranking drop in the other 8 years? Get off your arse, donate some money, or go clean a building instead of whining all the time.

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