Why business (and academic) community cheered hiring of Schiano at Rutgers

By Tom Bergeron
Piscataway | Dec 5, 2019 at 3:15 am
Editor’s Desk

As the CEO of one the largest organizations in the state — and one of the largest corporate supporters of Rutgers Athletics — Barry Ostrowsky knew others would be eager to get his take on the university’s pursuit of Greg Schiano to return as head football coach.

He was happy to give it.

“I was on the phone all weekend,” he told ROI-NJ.

And he was happy to voice his approval of the rehiring of Schiano.

To Ostrowsky, the CEO and president of RWJBarnabas Health, the hiring shows the school’s commitment to success — which is something all corporate sponsors want to see before agreeing to partnerships.

“Rutgers is a great university in so many different ways,” he said. “It is internationally renowned. And it has chosen, rightfully so in our view, to become a member of a big athletic conference (the Big Ten). Rutgers doesn’t want to be unsuccessful in anything it does. So, when you are committed to athletics, you want to be the best you can be.”

Ostrowsky wasn’t the only one in the New Jersey business community to feel this way. In fact, when talks with Schiano appeared to have broken down, it was the business community that helped pushed the school back to the negotiating table — with many supporters pledging they would no longer contribute to the school if it couldn’t close the deal.

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Barry Ostrowsky, CEO and president of RWJBarnabas Health.

The business community understood this decision was about more than just wins and losses. It was about something its members value as much as the bottom line: reputation.

“If you want to build reputation, it’s going to have to be multifactorial, and the athletic investment is an important one,” Ostrowsky said. “Look, you can always say, ‘Don’t spend money on this, spend it on something else.’ But, if that’s the case, you’d only spend it on one thing. So, I think this is an important capital allocation.”

That’s a nice way of saying Schiano is deserving of his new eight-year, $32 million contract and all the perks that come with it.

“In today’s world, that job demands a certain amount of compensation,” Ostrowsky said. “So, what are you going to do? If you say, ‘No, we’re just not going to do it,’ then you’re not going to be successful. And if you’re not successful, it actually hurts your reputation, because now you only get spoken about negative ways because you’re not successful in football.”

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. The return on investment comes in many forms.

Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Chris Molloy said the school already is benefiting from being in the Big Ten, which he feels is the perfect place for the school.

“What sports does is put Rutgers in the limelight,” he said. “These are the big public universities that we really match up with academically. There are so many benefits.”

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Chris Molloy, chancellor of Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus.

“We have collaborations with our cancer institute that actually allow us to have these clinical trials across the whole scope of universities all through the Midwest. We have collaborations that allow our students to do training and other universities. I’m actually going to be promoting this a lot from the academic side of why the Big Ten is so beneficial.

Molloy is not bothered by Schiano’s salary or the expenditures of the athletic program. He sees the return. And he understands you need money to compete.

Then there’s this:

“Our research expenditures are many multiples of what the whole sports budget is,” he said. “We have $750 million a year in research expenditures in one year at Rutgers. And, in the Big Ten, that’s in the middle of the pack. But it really helps people understand that we’re in a club of the Wisconsins and Penn States and Michigans, and lets them know that there’s research capabilities here that will benefit their companies and lets them know we have a wide variety of diverse students that they can hire.

“So, it all adds up together to being real positive thing for New Jersey and for Rutgers and for our students.”

Ostrowsky agreed.

A successful football program will build the school’s reputation among constituents who are going to be equally as proud of the biomedical stuff as the athletic stuff, he said.

The idea, of course, isn’t new.

Just look around the Big Ten, Molloy said.

“Has sports hurt Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State?” he asked. “Well, it’s good for Rutgers, too. We’re the big state university. The state invests a lot in us, and we deserve to have a really great university that shines brightly in every way.”

Read more from ROI-NJ on Schiano’s return: