Morgan Burke apologists often talk about the upgrade in facilities and the solid hires that he's made during his time as our alma mater's athletic director...and he deserves credit for these decisions. But his legacy is in grave danger as the end of his career draws closer.
To quote Bill Shakespeare: "The evil that men do lives after them, but the good is oft interred with their bones."
Methinks this quote applies right now as Purdue's place in the college sports world, in the conference and in this state is simply not good...and Burke is probably well-aware of it.
Football is the cash cow for Purdue and most college athletic departments...but for Purdue, the golden calf has become a rickety wooden bovine in vegas gold spray paint.
Ticket sales are substantially down, in fact, RA hasn't sold out in three seasons. Our Boilers haven't beaten UND in six contests...and a once-awful IU program is closing in fast on Purdue. In fact, IU is two games ahead of Purdue in the division and is now selling more tickets/game than Purdue...something that seemed to be nearly-impossible just a few seasons ago.
Burke has talked about retirement a few times in the last decade. But as a guy in his 60s who has been on the job for 20 years, he probably won't be able to man the post much longer. His fiscal responsibility and acumen was something that many ADs in the nation envied as Purdue's athletic department was in the black in nearly every year while he was on the job...but, his department's financial success was dependent upon interest in the football program by alums and fans alike.
Burke is in grave danger of handing off an athletic department in need of a complete rebuild if he doesn't act quickly...regardless of if he retires this year, or in the next few. But perhaps, the damage is already done.
If Purdue's athletic department is in need of an overhaul when Burke's predecessor takes over, that might not be the end of the world; It's time for change.
Athletic departments are not normal business...but Purdue's has been run like one. Part of that is good, part is not. Burke's time in the steel industry was successful, and I've never heard anyone say anything to the contrary. But there's a big difference in the steel industry and college athletics...the bottom line isn't the sole focus in sport, as a competitor like Burke should know.
Guys like Purdue's AD, who competed at a high level, hate to lose. Their career success often reflects that. But selling raw materials and selling tickets aren't the same thing. But, Purdue's products have become as fun to purchase as an I beam. The good news for Purdue is that many alums feel an emotional attachment to the athletic department, regardless of the results...but that group is shrinking.
Many of Purdue's teams don't seem to strive for championships but are OK with being in the upper half. If you spend time on Purduesports.com, you'll see that theme, time and again; That's unacceptable. At the same time, the marketing is smalltime and ideas out of the department have become stale. Purdue's athletic department isn't too crazy about ravenous and raucous masses hungry for the next victory as long as the contract seats are sold (they don't need to be full, it seems).
We've heard Purdue's head coaches bemoan limitations while we all watch Northwestern's football team win at a high rate. We've had to listen to the Nancy Crosses of the department blame the fans for nearly losing one of our own while the athletic department seems to care little...until the uproar is all but deafening. And now, we're watching IU's AD building a football program from nothing and, at the same time, resurrecting a crippled basketball program back into one of the nation's elite. As IU rallies, many around Purdue seem to accept the fact that we're just Purdue.
We Purdue fans have a chip on our collective shoulder. We're fighters, and we love our alma mater and want her to win each and every time she competes...and our athletic department doesn't reflect that. That needs to change, and if Burke can't lead the program to change, he should step aside and make room for someone who is ready to make gameday fun again. Someone ready to get out in front of a pep rally and get people psyched about the future...and someone who believes Purdue will compete and win against the elite programs of the conference, but also the nation.
This idea isn't executed easily...it'll take raising money, raising interest, being extremely creative, being tireless and dynamic and not being hampered by the constraints of the way things are. None of these traits sound like the leader of Purdue's athletic department to me. I'm not saying Burke wasn't ever any of these things...but he surely isn't now, nor has he been for years.
Burke and company made a bad decision nearly five years ago when they hired Danny Hope. He seems like a nice guy who's in way over his head...and week-in, week-out, we're now being reminded this. I don't think he was hired because the athletic department thought he was the best man for the job, the best possible candidate for the money or even that he would eventually lead Purdue to championships. But, he was hired because he was good-enough and, more importantly, his price was right. Turns out, Burke was penny wise, and pound foolish.
His cheap decision making, that paid off well for the basketball program, has now set the program back decades. The cost of hiring economically instead of based on previous success is around 20,000 empty seats each home game and a fanbase that cares less and less about football with each passing week. My concern now, as Hope's dismissal seems to be just weeks away, is the same committee and CEO that made the last decision will make a similar decision again. If that happens, it's unavoidable that Burke's legacy and successes will be completely tarnished by two bad decisions.
If Burke is not willing to change his perspective and thinking prior to this next hire, it will surely be a catastrophic failure for which his successor, and the greater university, will pay dearly.