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Her Big Plans for the Big Ten

Julie Hermann, the new athletic director, is laying the groundwork for Rutgers' entry into the elite athletic conference.

Julie Hermann the new athletic director at Rutgers
Julie Hermann is the new athletic director at Rutgers, which is scheduled to join the Big Ten Conference next fall. Photography by Nick Romanenko

When Julie Hermann was just 12 years old, growing up in Nebraska City, Nebraska, she’d stay up into the wee hours drawing detailed sketches of buildings, even entire city blocks. As the new athletic director at Rutgers, Hermann may find her aptitude for building things to be challenged like never before. With Rutgers less than a year away from joining the Big Ten Conference, one of the nation’s premier college conferences, Hermann is trying to construct an athletic program that can compete for championships against perennial powers like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and her alma mater, Nebraska.

“I want every Scarlet Knight to have what he or she needs to compete at the highest level,” Hermann says.

Hermann has work in front of her. The Rutgers athletic budget falls below every one of the 12 teams that make up the Big Ten (Maryland will also join the conference in 2014). Ohio State, which tops the list, has an athletic budget that is more than twice the Rutgers budget. Hermann is clear-eyed about how much ground, financial and otherwise, the Scarlet Knights need to make up, and quickly. “We are going to have to be smarter with our resources than the competition in order to compete for titles,” she says.

To that end, Hermann initiated an assessment to determine how Rutgers measures up against the Big Ten schools in dozens of categories, from salaries to facilities to academics. “We’re going to be competitive in football,” she says. “But where are the gaps? Where are the sports that don’t have the ingredients, potentially, to compete successfully in the Big Ten?”

For Hermann, the challenge might look familiar. At the University of Louisville, where she worked as an athletics administrator for the past 15 years as the number-two person to the well-regarded athletic director Tom Jurich, she helped shepherd the school’s transition from Conference USA to the Big East and, starting next year, to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

This fall, she plans to announce what she calls a Big Ten capital development plan, including a schedule for renovations at the Louis Brown Athletic Center (the RAC). She’s already reshuffled office space at the facility, moving athletics administrators out of their closed-door offices “to give coaches the places and spaces they need to operate at a high level,” says Hermann, who vacated her own office to make room for new men’s basketball coach Eddie Jordan. The other coaches—baseball, softball, women’s soccer, track, and tennis, among them—will get new office space, too.

Hermann is building out what she describes as a “best-in-class student-care model” that will nurture Rutgers’ student-athletes—on and off the field. “We’re going into the homes to talk to the parents of the top student-athletes in the country, and we’re convincing them that they should select Rutgers over any of the other 300-plus Division I schools,” Hermann says. “One of the things we need to be able to say to a parent is that there’s nothing that’s going to happen over the next four or five years, while he’s here or she’s here, that we’re not expertly prepared to manage.”

But the most pressing need will be closing the budget gap that separates the Scarlet Knights from the top tier of the Big Ten. Hermann knows that fundraising has to increase in order for Rutgers to compete in the new league. The Big Ten assessment will start with football seat donations and ticket prices. “We can’t compete with toothpicks when the competition has swords,” she says. Fortunately, Rutgers’ impending move is already beginning to pay off. She says football season-ticket sales increased by nearly 3,500 from last year, and over the summer she announced the hiring of IMG College, the brand-management juggernaut, in a deal that guarantees Rutgers at least $65 million in sponsorships and other marketing revenue over the next 11 years.

How much does the move to the Big Ten mean? “I think there’s a band of people who want to compete at the highest possible level,” she says. “And my sense right now is because of the move to the Big Ten, we have a new band of people—not just in athletics, but in academics—whose interest in Rutgers was piqued because not only are they Rutgers; they are now Rutgers in the Big Ten.” •
                                                                                                                                               — Christopher Hann