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Rutgers University’s $100-million-plus proposal to expand its stadium has received mixed reviews from students, New Jersey residents and this week’s poll respondents. Nearly half (49%) of our polltakers believe that the idea should be sacked and football in general de-emphasized. Slightly fewer (40%) think the plan is an excellent one. Only 11% remain ambivalent. Marc Berson, chairman of the Fidelco Group and a football fan himself, believes supporting athletics is important, as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of fiscal responsibility. His thoughts are below:

“You have to break this into a couple of pieces. One piece is the financial climate we have in the state. A lot of decision-making goes to prioritizing where the state’s dollars have to go, because we’re short. In that climate, it’s very easy to reach a negative conclusion on this issue, which frankly doesn’t solve the problem of how we should support higher education in New Jersey. As it becomes more difficult to afford higher education, New Jersey has to prepare and provide for its own better than it has in the past.

“Let’s put the prioritization of public moneys aside for the moment and focus on the question of football at Rutgers. I’ve become a believer that football and big-time sports have benefited the school in terms of reputation, interest, morale, the kind of esprit de corps that occurs throughout the school population, not only for the students, but also the faculty.

“Having said that, I’m not suggesting that a focus on continuing to upgrade the quality of education and the educational experience has to go hand-in-hand with improving the athletic program, but when you have a hook that’s attracting people, it’s not a bad thing to use it, and football has clearly changed the number of applications. It’s increased applications and made it easier for the school to raise money from the private community.

“Historically, philanthropists haven’t given much money to public universities. Most people believed that the state universities received lots of money from the state itself, which raised the money through taxation and other vehicles. Meanwhile, the private universities built up huge endowments. Universities like Rutgers are just starting to receive significant amounts of private money. If you speak to the large institutional players in the philanthropic community, they admit that they haven’t been there for the public universities and that it’s something that they need to do.

“The state has suggested it cannot prioritize money to assist with the extension, but the university believes it can raise the money for the next phase of construction through private philanthropy. In fact, the governor has said, on a personal level, that he’d help the school raise money for the construction that way.

“Football is here to stay, the athletic program at Rutgers is going to grow and we should maintain a competitive program. We should be careful with our spending and remember we have a much greater responsibility when the state’s not going to be there with the dollars.”

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