NEW YORK (AP) – When Rutgers hired athletic director Robert Mulcahy eight years ago, he was given a mandate to upgrade a beleaguered football program– and a budget to get the job done.

The Scarlet Knights went to the Insight bowl last year, their first postseason appearance since 1978.

This year, they got even better and made a tantalizing run at playing for a national championship until Cincinnati stopped their undefeated season.

Rutgers doubled its spending on football from $7 million to $13.2 million since 1998. The Scarlet Knights (9-1, 4-1 Big East), who rose to No. 7 this season, spent more than Michigan ($12.2) in the 2004-05 fiscal year, according to the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Web site.

“Football has become the front porch of the university,” Mulcahy said. “The free publicity and national telecasts – we could never have gotten that anytime before.”

Among the top 10 teams in The Associated Press poll, Ohio State spent the most on football at $29.6 million in total expenses, followed by Southern California ($21.4), Florida ($19.2), Notre Dame ($17.1) and Wisconsin ($16.6), according to the report.

The football spending comes at a time when NCAA president Myles Brand is cautioning schools to rein in budgets, and Rutgers is facing an $80 million shortfall in state aid.

Rutgers plans to eliminate six sports next spring as part of universitywide cuts. The school will retain 24 sports after dropping men’s tennis, swimming and diving, heavyweight and lightweight crew and men’s and women’s fencing.

With an overall athletic budget of $41 million, which also doubled under Mulcahy, no financial cuts are planned for football.

“That’s the one thing that has the ability to generate money,” he said. “The amount of exposure since we went to the Insight Bowl last year created tremendous TV ratings and we parlayed that into this season.”

Rutgers took in $1.25 million from the Insight Bowl, but did not finish in the black. Michigan had the largest reported surplus among the top 10 at $34 million, followed by LSU ($25.4), Notre Dame ($24.6), Florida ($24.1) and Ohio State ($22.2) in 2004-05. The reported surpluses often do not include new facility costs and debt.

Brand recently defended the NCAA’s tax-exempt status in a letter to Congress, arguing the primary goal of the NCAA is education regardless of money schools receive from TV contracts and championship events.

Athletic budgets at Division I schools increased 8 percent to 12 percent annually during the last decade while university budgets increased only 3 percent to 4 percent, Brand said.

Those findings came from a 50-member presidential task force assigned nearly two years ago to consider the future of Division I sports.

Brand noted that about only 24 athletic departments earned a profit among the approximately 330 Division I schools in the last decade.

Millions are spent annually at Division I schools on coaches’ salaries, scholarships and facility upgrades. Division II and III schools don’t face the same pressure to make money, said Wally Renfro, senior adviser to Brand.

“Somehow for Division I, if you’re not making money, there’s something wrong,” Renfro said. “Philosophically, that doesn’t make sense. Then if a school makes money, (it’s asked) how can you be not-for-profit? It’s an interesting dichotomy.”

Rutgers, now No. 15 in the AP poll, ranked sixth in per-player spending among top-10 teams. USC led at $40,993 per player, followed by Ohio State ($37,693), Wisconsin ($35,724), Florida ($23,884), West Virginia ($23,828) and Rutgers ($23,702).

Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College, believes athletic departments need more checks and balances. Most football teams have more than 100 players, often staying at a local hotel before home games to stay focused.

“There’s a tremendous amount of waste in the football program,” Zimbalist said. “Athletic directors think they need to engage in waste or they won’t get the good players. It’s a trumped-up competitive environment.”

Zimbalist calls for capping coaches’ salaries – some as high as $2 million – at $500,000.

“It leaves the system intact and still saves large amounts of money and creates more teams,” he said.

Donna Lopiano, chief executive of the Women’s Sports Foundation, said sports cuts are often made because of fiscal mismanagement.

“Consistently, Division II and III had a net increase in teams and only Division I is disbanding teams because of the sports arms race,” said Lopiano, the Texas women’s athletic director from 1977-92. “They are the richest division and they should be the ones adding sports.”

Most departments allocate the bulk of the budget to football and men’s basketball – which generate the bulk of the revenue – and create a two-tiered system.

“You take the top five men’s and 10 women’s teams – 15 sports with the best coaches we can find – and give them recruiting money and scholarship dollars to give them the ability to compete for championships,” Mulcahy said.

Rutgers, which played the first U.S. intercollegiate football game against Princeton in 1869, is in a three-way tie for the Big East title. It hosts Syracuse on Saturday and faces No. 7 West Virginia the following week before a possible bowl game.

If Rutgers wins the Big East and goes to a Bowl Championship Series game, the payout would be about $17 million, which would be shared with the rest of the conference.

Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano arrived in 2000 and made $875,000 in salary and guaranteed income this year. He would like to double the football stadium’s capacity to 80,000.

Mulcahy is “absolutely” certain the program will eventually make a profit.

“With increased ticket sales, increased sponsorship, increased exposure and increased donations, it all comes together,” he said. “Our budget is less than 2 percent of the university budget. We’re not out of control yet. We want to get competitive and have a chance to win.”

On the Net:

Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act:

AP-ES-11-22-06 1510EST

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