Speaking 24 hours after he unveiled an ambitious facility fundraising campaign, Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs has a vision and a message.
Starts, stops, leadership changes and road blocks have the average Rutgers supporter skeptical of upcoming facility upgrades despite support this time from Trenton. Hobbs, approaching two months on the job, says this time is for real.
“I can’t blame people for having some sort of thoughts in that direction because they’ve heard lots of fits and starts in the past,” Hobbs said Thursday night from his RAC office. “We have no choice. We’re on a different stage now in the Big Ten. We are well, well behind our peers in terms of the quality of what we offer our student athletes.”
Rutgers scrapped multiple past plans for facilities, including the 2012 Tim Pernetti RAC plans with famous architect Michael Graves, but the latest physical master plan received a significant boost from Trenton this week.
Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law that provides Rutgers with up to $25 million in tax credits for facility construction and upgrades. Hobbs and Rutgers have to raise the rest with their R Big Ten Build campaign with a $100 million goal.
“I’m only going to get it done to the extent that everybody joins,” Hobbs said. “That is the concept of we are all in, RU. For us to succeed, for us to get this done, everyone has to be a part of it. If everyone is a part of it, then it gets done. It’s simplistic in a way but everybody steps in, this happens. If they don’t, we’re going to get it done, but I believe the response and certainly what I’ve heard just in 24 hours from people indicates that this is going to happen.”
The “everybody joins” concept begins at the top. Hobbs himself was one of the first pledges toward the plan. He pledged a $50,000 donation – 9 percent of his public annual salary – with an “all in” mentality at his new home.
“When you’re asking people to contribute their hard-earned dollars to a cause, they want to know that you’re in that cause as well,” Hobbs said. “Obviously these are our livelihoods that we’re involved in but we’re also passionate about Rutgers sports as fans of Rutgers sports. Everybody wants to know that the people who are shepherding this contribute as well.”
Every Rutgers head coach and senior administrator, including another $50,000 from both Chris Ash and Eddie Jordan, pledged to the cause instantly.
The response from boosters in the first 24 hours is “tremendous,” Hobbs said.
“People are excited,” he said. “They have a sense that we’re really going to get this done this time moving forward. Texts, phone messages, I haven’t been able to check on the donations yet but I’ve heard anecdotally that a lot of people are doing what they can, and that’s really neat.”
Hobbs made it clear in his first press conference – at halftime of a December Rutgers basketball game – that it was a new day for the athletic department.
Hobbs announced two goals – hire a football coach and improve facilities. The football hire went down quickly, and speedy action was also a goal in facilities. Rutgers built its web site for the R Big Ten Build campaign and went public within one day of Christie’s signature.
“I thought it was very important to be ready on the heels of the support by the governor and by the legislature,” Hobbs said on the quick turnaround. “I have great appreciation for them wanting to do that. Of course you don’t know until that moment but I want to make sure we were ready to seize the moment and that’s why we were ready the way we were.”
The rest of the Rutgers athletic department stands committed to the cause, Hobbs said, and boosters can expect more interactivity with Ash after National Signing Day concludes.
“We’re going to be working very hard in all sorts of venues and situations to try to bring as much support to this as we can as quickly as we can because as soon as we get to those dollar levels, then we’re in the ground with shovels,” Hobbs said. “There will be events. People will offer to do events. We’ll work with everyone to make this happen as quickly as possible.”