Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Every athletic department and subsequent fanbase has a culture. The culture is often shaped by records and can be changed by the mentality of coaches. For this reason, I'm excited about what's going on around the football/basketball complex in West Lafayette.
A young Gene Keady and a younger Joe Tiller both believed that championships were a possibility each season at Purdue. But as their time on campus drew to a close, both had significantly changed their outlook. Complaints about facilities, problems with recruiting big-time talent, competition for those players and the fanbase all became themes for both coaches.
I think these complaints set the fanbase back as well. There were clear divides among the fans whether Tiller and Keady should stay or leave during their closing seasons at Ross Ade and Mackey, respectively. No one wanted to disrespect what these men had done for the athletic department, but many, myself included, thought they were both dismantling what they had built as they began losing more and more games that they wouldn't have lost in seasons prior...And the resulting recruiting classes left both programs in difficult positions.
Matt Painter is not Gene Keady...we all know that. He might have been picked with the help of Keady to succeed him, and he played and coached under Keady, he's his own guy. He's not as animated on the court, he runs a different offense, he goes after different types of players...but like Keady years before, he has his team in the position to win conference championships...and maybe do something Keady never could- win a national title. The media certainly believes Matty's team should be in the pre-season conversations.
Like Painter, Danny Hope is not his predecessor...Granted, he has a handsome mustache like the guy before him and he coached under Tiller, but it might stop there. With Hope, we still don't know a lot about what's coming down the shoot. But what we do know, is he's a bit of a bulldog- he scowls when he's angry, gets after officials, is demonstrative in practice and has an idea of what his team should be...I think speed is his number one focus, and if the talent level can steadily rise with each recruiting class, Hope's teams, like Painter's might soon be in the talk for conference titles or better each season...time will tell.
I just watched a video detailing the facilities around Mackey Arena that are being built...I'm excited about the changes. But, I've heard some of the Purdue family saying that a new arena was the answer, not a change to the existing facility.
I don't agree. I like Mackey and like the fact that it's a loud place and the fans are close to the action while having a good view from about any seat in the arena. Many new arenas have the fans set further away from the court and have boxy designs that don't give the sight lines that the in-the-round arenas have.
The attached practice facility and other student athlete facilities will help all sports and will provide an instant big-time look as fans and athletes alike head toward the complex while driving down Northwestern. Painter believes these facilities will help recruiting...they might already be doing so...but the average 17/18 year old will be more impressed with the real thing than they will with sketches and computer models.
On the football side, the medical facilities in the new buildings will help out and the offices, study and training rooms will aide Hope's recruiting in a season-or-two. Plus, there's still talk about changing Ross-Ade, and it'll probably happen before Burke's time as AD is over at Purdue. I don't think any of those plans are set just yet, but I don't know if stadium expansion makes much sense unless the fanbase and the market demands it. The improvements to Ross-Ade a few seasons ago were a big step forward, but the fans really hold the keys to what comes next, it seems.
This is where the mentality of the fanbase comes into the equation of changing the future of Purdue athletics. This is an issue from the 50 year alum down to the Freshman who just stepped onto campus this fall.
Purdue has around 400,000 alums...I'd have to guess that 200,000 are within three hours of West Lafayette. Yet, Ross-Ade wasn't close to full for the Toledo home opener. Sure, some have been de-energized by the last few seasons, and the economy is still pretty horrible, but empty seats send a loud message to recruits...and there were plenty of them two Saturdays ago.
I don't think a sold-out Ross-Ade stadium each Saturday is going to happen any time soon, but at minimum, I'd like to see and ravenous, vociferous and consistent student section...there's no reason this can't happen. The tickets are price well for the students, and the student base is large while the stadium is easy to get to.
On the alum side, if more seats can't be filled, is it too much to ask for more energy and enthusiasm? It probably is for many of the old guys...but there are plenty of people who graduated in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s that are in the seats who have let the crappy culture of Ross-Ade take the moxy out of the crowd.
It should never be a negative for a fan to stand up and yell during defensive stands...but, both at Mackey and Ross-Ade, I've been told to sit down numerous times just for cheering on the defense. To me, that's inexcusable...And until it changes in West Lafayette, the homefield advantage for our Boilers will not exist as it should.
My commission is simple- if you only make it to one game this season, make it worth while and get up every time you feel like cheering...and leave without a voice. If you've got season tickets, you should be well-trained by the time the Big Ten season starts to yell each time the defense is on the field and the Kafka tries to check out of the play initially sent in by the Wildcat coaches.
If you're sitting between the 30s, especially on the press box side, you might get a hard time...but there's strength in numbers...and an old dog can learn new tricks...even one who graduated 40 years ago and is set in the idea that he only stands during halftime. These people in the seats that I can't afford are paramount in equation of making RA a formidable place to play again.
I really believe Hope will do his part in the coming seasons as he wins more and more games...especially if he's able to pay his staff their market value, but if you don't think crowds are important, read some comments by various recruits during the past few weeks. These young kids can have their minds changed by the support, or lack thereof, in the crowd around the field...Let's start the three-game homestand off the right way this week.
There are supposed to be a good amount of recruits at the game...a couple DBs from Florida might help sure up the defensive backfield in '10 and after. And even though Northern Illinois isn't aOSU or UND, they're still a solid bowl team...the Huskies are pretty good. Here's to NIU's team feeling uncomfortable all Saturday afternoon. Let me just say that gaining homefield advantage doesn't mean hurling curse words and insults at the opposition or, especially, visiting fans. Leave the classless behavior to Wisconsin and Iowa fans...and the stuck-up bitchiness to the Domers.
The paradigm shift to the thinking around Purdue's athletic department can start this week...and Ross-Ade can once-again become a tough place to play for opponents.