Rutgers to its students: Drop Dead

July 21, 2008

The stench of dying hangs heavy in the July humidity as the reckless Piscataway Rutgers Stadium expansion project crashes against the twin poles of a New Jersey public that just isn’t interested and students who are being bled dry by an administration that is Ahab-like in its futile pursuit of “bigtime” sports. Memorable moments are so plentiful we don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The one stark reality: the tide has pungently shifted and New Jersey’s media are piling on the boondoggle that is the Rutgers stadium expansion project.

Let’s start with a definite (we guess) laugh — Drew Sheneman’s cartoon that shows Rutgers students lifted ever higher by rising tuition and fees…”at least they can see the stadium construction from up here!”

Our personal favorite recent quotation belongs to athletic director Mulcahy III — the same Mulcahy III who purportedly was fired by then Governor Christie Whitman because of cost-overruns and mismanagement when he headed the NJ Sports and Exposition Authority — who growled, “‘Don’t believe all the critics,’ he said. ‘I know who my critics are.'” That Nixonian moment is in a meticulous Star Ledger story that shows the “savings” associated with cutting the six Olympic sports actually have turned into big losses for Rutgers. Mulcahy, apparently, cannot add or multiply, but — again — that should come as no surprise given his history.

Mulcahy clearly is losing it as the scrutiny of his monomaniacal Rutgers tenure uncovers ever more decisions that don’t add up. More Nixonian moments from Mulcahy III arise in this recent Jersey Journal piece where, in reaction to skepticism about his stadium expansion plans, he snarled: “Let me put it this way, I am going to do this thing for $102 million,” Mulcahy said. “I’m going to have seats in the south end zone and I am going to have the scoreboard and I am going to have the club done.”

The reality is that Mulcahy III doesn’t have the money in hand for the expansion — and as the price-tag has rocketed up over $125 million he is falling ever shorter. Our bet is that soon an announcement will be made that the project is “delayed.” That is why Mulcahy III’s Crankiness Factor is soaring.

You can see the lips turning white, the sweat popping on the forehead as this 70 year-old bureaucrat whose life has been spent swilling at Trenton’s trough sees his capstone project blowing up in his face. Pretty soon we expect him to blurt out that he is retiring and we won’t have Bob Mulcahy to kick around anymore! We would feel pity for him if it weren’t the university’s academics and students that are picking up the pieces.

Which brings us to Rutgers’ suffering students. Multiple stories now are detailing that the legendary “RU Screw” is intensifying as the administration reaches deeper into the pockets of students, in part to defray the ever greater expenditures on athletics. The Daily Record reports on the impacts of higher tuition and fees here.

It gets worse: as the state cuts its support, the quality of a Rutgers education sinks ever lower. Rutgers students are paying more for much less, it’s that brutal. Gannet reports: “Every area of the university is impacted,” said Nancy Winterbauer, vice president for university budgeting at Rutgers. She said Rutgers also faces cuts in services, staff and course offerings.

Meantime, PARADE Magazine weighs in with a report, Are College Coaches Over-Paid? At $1.8 million — making him the state’s highest paid public employee, Greg Schiano — the coach with a lifetime losing record — surely is the poster child for an over-paid coach. Think about how many real teachers could be hired were Schiano sent packing — that’s around 18 full professors in, say, English or History. The Parade story includes this: “Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, says, ‘Some colleges seem more focused on beer and spectacle than on teaching and learning.'” Sound familiar?

Parade adds this: “a recent report by the NCAA suggests that college sports are, in fact, money-losing propositions. Among the 119 schools with top Division I football teams, only 19 had athletic departments that generated a profit in 2006.” Rutgers of course is not among the profitable 19. It loses money on athletics, year in, year out, and that is money that is creamed off the top of the resources available for academics. Every dime spent on athletics is money not spent on education. It really is that stark.

Add it up: there is a gusher of money for football, less and less for academics. The message has become unmistakable. Rutgers is off course, it is failing the state’s taxpayers, its businesses, and — above all — its students. But the worse it gets, the more optimistic we are. And that is because of the stench over Piscataway. As the recent flood of newspaper coverage shows: recognition is mounting that Rutgers needs new dorms, new classroom buildings, new labs. It does not need a $100+ million stadium expansion that very, very few want and that will do nothing to improve the quality of life for 99.9% of students.

And pretty much that is what Professor Dowling is saying in this recent Packet newspaper profile. Read that story and leave this blog cheered. The end is coming, for Mulcahy III, for the reckless stadium expansion, for the foolish push into bigtime sports.

Doblin to Mulcahy: Just Stop the Stadium Expansion

July 15, 2008

Alfred Doblin, the Bergen Record editorial page editor, puts it perfectly: “Yes, there’s something to be said for determination against all odds. It’s called grit. There’s something also to be said when public money is being tossed around like a football: Stop!”

The message for Rutgers Athletic Director Mulcahy III is palpable: Wake up and smell the jockstraps! The money is not on hand to fund the reckless stadium expansion and there is no probability of finding it. None. As Doblin observes: “The Rutgers Stadium expansion sounds oddly familiar. The let’s-build-it-and-figure-out-how-we-pay-for-it-later mentality was the mantra of the now deceased Schools Construction Corp. Look where those construction-savvy officials got us today: deeper in debt.”

Read Doblin’s op-ed.

It’s a sound summary of the economic realities of the lunatic stadium expansion. The money is not on hand, football fans are not making donations, and, bottomline, the stadium expansion is nothing more than ego balm for Mulcahy III and NJ’s highest paid public employee, Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano, the man who still has a lifetime losing record. The state cannot afford this and the university — with its crumbling infrastructure and cutbacks in the education it delivers to students — ought not even contemplate it.

Rutgers spending on a stadium expansion is rather like a homeowner facing foreclosure on the family home splurging on a new convertible. It makes no sense — not intellectually, not financially, not morally.

It is time to send the bulldozers home.

Another Stadium Disaster

April 28, 2008

How troubled is Gilbane, the contractor hired by Rutgers to build the $100+ million stadium expansion? Bad enough that the New Jersey Schools Development Authority in February fired Gilbane from some 22 construction projects, according to reporting by the Targum. Targum adds that NJSDA is preparing to file suit against Gilbane.

Gilbane already has a history also of New Jersey projects plagued with cost overruns. The NJSDA complaints revolve around shoddy work.

Predictably — sadly — university president Dick McCormick is quoted by Targum saying: “We’re very satisfied with Gilbane.” Sigh. We suppose it’s too much to expect McCormick to tell the truth: the stadium expansion plan is moronic and we should shut it down tout suite.

Incidentally, this is not the only news about Gilbane. In Rhode Island legislators are saying the award of a contract at the University of Rhode Island is both riskier and more expensive than necessary. That story is here. In Falmouth, MA, a high school renovation apparently has been plagued by problems — read about it here.

The Star Ledger, meantime, weighs in with this report on Gilbane, headlined: Report: Rutgers Stadium Contract Had Been Fired From Public School Job.

The AP picks up this ball and runs with it, in a story that says the Schools Development Authority is suing Gilbane for $13 million.

McCormick-Mulcahy had better hope that state political powerbroker Joe Cryan — who already is irked by corruption and waste at Rutgers — does not decide to hold hearings into the football stadium expansion which, increasingly, resembles a stereotypical New Jersey boondoggle. As the Gannett chain reported: “It is the height of hypocrisy for colleges to cry poverty while state watchdogs are printing page after page of evidence of waste,” Cryan said in a statement issued Friday.

Stadium Expansion Death Watch

April 25, 2008

Call this the official countdown to an acknowledgment by Old Queens that it does not have the money to pay for the $100+ million expansion of Rutgers stadium — in a time when the state of New Jersey is rushing into a deep recession, state parks are closing, and professors are getting fired.

Today the Home News & Tribune reported on the failure by Rutgers to make progress in raising the needed money.

The Record chimes in with this headline: No cash? No prob: Rutgers stadium expansion begins

Nationally, meantime, the economic downturn is causing numerous development projects to come to a halt. The Wall Street Journal documents this abrupt u-turn in construction here. Even projects that make sense are coming up short and getting shelved. And the Rutgers stadium expansion makes no sense; it clearly is on life support with the minutes ticking down.

Yesterday, this blog reported on the latest developments in the missing $30 million, that is, the failure by Rutgers and Gov. Corzine to raise the $30 million in private donations to pay for part of the expansion plan. And there is no word at all about the status of the $70+ million in bonds needed to pay for rest of the project, probably because Wall Street would laugh at that offering at this time.

What is staggering is that anybody in the school administration believes that adding some seats to a stadium is more important than doing something — anything — to shore up Rutgers’ plummeting academic reputation. As for New Jersey, the state is a national laughingstock for its pork barrel politics, so this stadium expansion is right out of the corrupt Trenton playbook. So what if Johnny can’t read — let him watch ESPN!

Keep reading this space. The obit for this foolhardy and reckless plan already is being drafted.

The Missing $30 Million

April 24, 2008

Just where is that $30 million in private contributions to build the stadium expansion coming from? A Star Ledger article says the cash is nowhere in sight.  Associate Press later moved a story that underscored the Ledger’s concerns.

Isn’t it time to pull the plug on Mulcahy’s folly?

Of course we are also waiting for the other shoe to drop, that is, for Rutgers to admit it cannot find buyers for the $70+ million in construction bonds needed to build the expansion.

That will leave students and NJ taxpayers to pick up this wasteful outlay of $100+ million — unless the plug is firmly pulled on this silly monument to Schiano’s out-sized (and under-performing) ego.  As reported by AP:

“This raises the specter that New Jersey taxpayers will be called upon to pay for the expansion, if private donations do not materialize,” said Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris. “I will not support making the taxpayers bear this added burden.”

Would you commit to a $50,000 kitchen remodel without having some idea of where the money would come from? No thinking person would but thinking seems a rare talent amongst the jock-sniffing Rutgers administrators and Board of Governors.

The one BoG member who voted against the stadium expansion plan, George Zoffinger, ironically is the only one with experience manging large capital projects. As the Bergen Record quoted him:

“I would never go forward — as someone who has built $100 million buildings — with a project like this,” Zoffinger said. He said the plans didn’t allow enough wiggle room for cost overruns and that the private fund raising was by no means assured.

“You’ve got to set some priorities,” Zoffinger said. “This whole borrow, borrow, borrow has gotten New Jersey into the condition it’s in.”

Sigh. It is difficult to express exactly how reckless and foolhardy this expansion is — but the bottomline is that the money is nowhere near in hand.

Another blogger wonders how a state that borders on bankrupt and is forced to close public parks can even think about putting $100+ million into a stadium expansion. Alas, we cannot explain this, either. Nor do we know what to tell Rutgers students who, come fall, will find many classes canceled because professors had to be fired to balance Rutgers’ falling budget.

The one bright spot are the guffaws to be had reading the booster message boards as posters express shock that the citizenry isn’t tripping over themselves in haste to fund Mulcahy’s folly. These boosters apparently keep their hands firmly in their own pockets because, amidst the angst-ridden bravado, there are no pledges of big money contributions to revive this dying stadium plan.

Our favorite so far, from a poster who writes under the name AreYouNuts: Honestly, the Pennsy primary is over and there’s time and space to be filled on the airwaves and in the papers, hence, a bunch of NOTHING was put together.

F* ’em is what I say!!”

When in doubt…curse.

Maybe that same strategy will work when the stadium contractors persist in presenting bills for work — and RU has nothing but an empty-handed one-finger salute to offer in return.

We have said it before, we will say it again: the stadium expansion — in the midst of a recession that is devastating the New Jersey economy — is so stupid it borders on criminality.

Cui bono?

The Case of the Vanishing Stadium Financing

March 28, 2008

Let’s face it: raising upwards of $100+ million to build a Rutgers Stadium expansion was far-fetched and fanciful in the first instance. The team is mediocre, the coach has a lifetime losing record, and the Athletic Director might charitably be described as a Trenton careerist (which is polite phrasing for a lot of profanities). The one member of the board of governors with experience with large capital projects for sports venues openly mocked the cockamamie stadium plan — and pointed out that the contractor chosen to do the work had no experience building stadiums and, furthermore, there is no cap on construction costs which surely will spiral.

That is prologue, today’s news is that — in the midst of a worsening national recession that is beginning to hit very hard in the tri-state market — even the Super Bowl champion New York Giants are running into big difficulties raising financing to finish a stadium construction project. As noted in the New York Post: “the credit freeze is stalling and threatening new stadiums and arenas that fans are eagerly awaiting.”

Hello Piscataway, show us the green.

If even the country’s best football programs — with armies of dedicated season-ticket holders — are finding financing difficult to score, whoever would think that a bottomfeeder Big East program with gossamer fan support will find credit markets more hospitable.

Note: there is no word on progress raising the $30 million donation needed to move the Rutgers Stadium expansion project forward (probably because there is no progress) and there is no sign the $70+ million in bonds are heading to market, probably because they aren’t.

It’s time to write RIP on this flatulent idea. Then again, watching Mulcahy, McCormick, Schiano passing the cup in an environment turned stingy — and with fans increasingly fed up with the mediocrity that is Rutgers football — just might be comedy on the order of the Three Stooges.

Jockstrap Thinking at the BoG

March 26, 2008

The stark and nasty facts about the New Jersey economy are mounting fast.  The projected budget shortfall will be a lot more — a lot deeper — than Trenton initially projected, says the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services.  Per the Newark Star Ledger, “OLS’s forecast for next year is gloomier. It is predicting $288.7 million less than the governor projected in tax collections during the 12 months that begin July 1, mostly because of declines in sales and income taxes.

“When the two budget years are taken together, OLS expects the state to net about $134 million less in taxes than Gov. Jon Corzine forecast for the next 15 months.”

The AP adds this gloomy quotation from David Rosen, the legislative budget and finance officer: “It should be clear that most of the risk in this forecast is on the downside, and it is easy to imagine plausible economic scenarios in which the outcome is considerably more dire than the numbers we have provided.”

And yet no one in Trenton is calling for a halt on the stadium expansion boondoggle that will raise Rutgers’ indebtedness by 9 figures (count em!) — at a time when state support for the university will continue to fall.

As Rutgers transforms itself into the “Louisville of the North” — the apparent goal of the McCormick administration — we can only hope that clearer heads, who can do simple mathematics, will realize that these parlous economic times demand a halt to reckless expenditures such as the $100+ million stadium expansion.

The Ledger quotes Rutgers economist Joe Seneca:  “This recession has the potential to be broader and deeper than the two previous recessions that were shallow and brief.”

Is that the environment in which Rutgers ought to be undertaking a masssive capital project — one with uncertain funding and a sketchy repayment plan?

The answer is so obvious that one wonders what breed of Spitzer thinking has overtaken the BoG.  Certainly it looks as though they are letting their jockstraps do the hard thought!

Meantime, New Jersey high school seniors, we reiterate our counsel.  Get thee out of state for your higher education because here in the Garden State the outlook for scholarship has turned dismal — and it will only worsen.  The Rutgers BoG may live in a fantasy land where jockstraps don’t stink, but at least you don’t have to go to school there!