Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Changing the thinking at Purdue


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.

15 comments:

PatrickWB said...

All good points and I couldn't agree more. I remember during my freshman year my parents' seats at Mackey were at mid-court so, if they couldn't make it to a game I'd sit there instead of the student section. The people behind us would get steamed every time we stood up to cheer. I never understood that kind of mentality and I'd love to see it changed.

(One editorial note, Boilerdowd, the expression you mean to use is "shore up" not "sure up.")

Kevin said...

Old people suck. Just sit back, drink your prune juice, and shut up. Let the people that actually understand and care about football and basketball cheer. Old crabby alums ruin the atmosphere.

Eric said...

Students aren't too hard to change, we've seen it time and again in both programs. Once they see some success, they come flocking rabidly -- I don't think any of us imagined people camping out for days in sub-zero temperatures for tickets in the waning Keady days, yet here we are. Some success in football, maybed bolstered by seeing Ralph Bolden become a star, would get students to focus on the games instead of how trashed they got at Breakfast Club that morning.

The Alumni, on the other hand, seems to be a whole other problem. I don't know what specifically causes it, maybe it's the John Purdue Club spoiling all of the cocktail drinking boomer dipshits, but they seem incapable of rising to the occasion on big games to support their team. One of my biggest disappointments came during the ABC prime time game against Ohio State a few years back, where aOSU basically turned Ross-Ade in to a miniature Columbus because the alums (even those right under the press box on the 50) scalped all their tickets. And god forbid if you try and get them to do a blackout.

I've always been of the opinion that they should get the students out of the corner, put them in the end zone behind the band, and use that section as the engine to drive the crowd. I think the same could be done for Mackey as well, at least in putting the Paint Crew right behind the visiting bench.

Brad said...

I also agree with the sentiment that our crowd sucks. After being around Purdue for a long time and seeing both Brees and Orton teams from the student section, it is almost painful to see a game from somewhere else in RA. I try to go to at least one game a year now that I live on the north side of Chicago, but it is hard to get pumped up sitting in mediocre seats that I get chastised for standing up to cheer. There is no electricity or excitement on the west side of the stadium.

And if you want to sell tickets, lower the price. Tickets have gone up every year to the point that it just isn't worth it for the product on the field for most people, especially in the waning TIller years. As a Northwestern Staff member, and now student, I would love to go to some games at Ryan Field, but $35 stops me cold in my tracks. Don't complain about empty stadiums with $35-45 ticket prices.

Boiler_Ditsor said...

I think Morgan Burke has acomplished a lot of good things for not only the major sports, but all athletics at Purdue. Luck or not, I think Burke has found himself two diamonds in the rough with the hiring of Painter and Hope. I know we have a long way to go before we see what Hope can really do with this program, and we've already seen the beginning of what is going to be a great Painter led basketball program. But, I think Hope was the right man for the job.

And, all of the athletic facility improvements and things that have been built and the ones in the works are great.

But, I believe his biggest negative is that he tries way too hard to appease the alumni. He is content selling half full stadiums as long as the premium seats are full. I say rip those damn seats out of Ross Ade and put the students there - hell you don't need to put any seats back in, just use the steps. I also like the idea of putting them in the End Zone, but does that mean we;ll have even less students at the games?

We definitely do not have a good PR campaign. Like mentioned earlier, our blackouts are a joke. Why not hand out cheap shirts at the door to every fan, they don't have to say a word on them. Ticket prices should well cover a $3.00 T-shirt. The student section will never be adjusted at Mackey because of the old F###s in the lower bowl. We can't piss them off becasue there goes all the key contributors.

How is it that many of our other Big Ten foes have student sections that wrap the entire court at their basketball games?

I think we're on the right path in many ways, but we have a long way to go before we are elite. The only path there is winning, and more winning. Then everything will fall into place.

Nate H said...

If you can't at least stand up on 3rd down, you shouldn't be at a football game. Period.

zlionsfan said...

A new arena? Where the hell would they put it? Next to the airport? Or maybe they'd just tear down Mackey first and we could play home games at Lafayette Jeff for a couple of years. ha ha. I don't see any feasible alternative to renovating Mackey.

I think Burke is kind of in a corner with respect to attendance, energy, and alumni. On the one hand, particularly right now, the athletic department needs all the money it can get, and the bulk of that money is coming from John Purdue members ... on the other hand, when you line the lower levels of both stadiums exclusively with deep-pocketed alums, you might as well hang "Quiet Please" signs at court and field level. (Basically, what other people have said.)

I don't know. Short of clever renovation that completely redoes some of the lower sections (thus giving Burke the opportunity to relocate the existing people and move students to those seats), I guess he's just going to have to bite the bullet eventually and tell some people that smaller stacks of loud money are much better than big stacks of quiet money. (Or maybe encourage them to take a look at suite prices.)

I mean, if you heard Saturday's game, the few bits where Oregon was actually leading, the fans were amazing. I suspect part of that is clever design - making 50,000 sound like 100,000 - and that can't really be changed at Ross-Ade, but part of it has to be atmosphere, too. The students can only do so much ... the last time I had alumni tickets, I was rather quiet (I had two tickets and couldn't find someone for the other one) and still made more noise than most other people in the section.

I don't know how an AD goes about changing the energy in the crowd, but it needs to be done.

Irish_cowboy said...

An older Purdue grad that goes to my parents' church back home once said to me when I was home for Christmas: "You aren't part of that 'Paint Crew' are you? I wish the NCAA would do something about all of those kids yelling and screaming and carrying on."

I just nodded and politely got away as fast as possible before I died of laughter. But sadly, that is the mentality of a large number of the alums over 50 or so (my dad excluded).

Purdue Matt said...

@Eric,

"boomers incapable of rising to the occasion..."

haha

Purdue Matt said...

"But, I believe his biggest negative is that he tries way too hard to appease the alumni."

They have the $$$$ that supports Purdue Athletics.



"He is content selling half full stadiums as long as the premium seats are full."

Not true.

Boiler_Ditsor said...

"He is content selling half full stadiums as long as the premium seats are full."

True

Purdue Matt said...

Yes, that makes sense Ditsor. Burke wants less revenue to work with. Sure. Good thinking.

J Money said...

He doesn't WANT less revenue... but I think our point here is that his primary objective is to fill the premium seats. Beyond that appears to be gravy to him and the department. If that's not true, why isn't more being done to fill the stadium? More creativity couldn't hurt... and, honestly, there's no excuse for a huge school like Purdue to not be able to fill one of the smallest stadiums in the Big Ten.

PatrickWB said...

Yeah, there must be some steps an AD could take to increase attendance - like they could play more night games or let fans keep balls kicked into the stands . . .

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