Sunday, November 04, 2012

Purdue's Athletic Department Crossroads Awaits

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.

Bullshit.

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.

10 comments:

L2F said...

The problem with Burke is how he measures success. If you have ever heard Burke speak at an event he always mentions the 25-85 club which means having a ranking average of 25th in all sports and graduating 85% of athletes.

I think these goals are great, especially the 85% graduation rate. But it seems as of the athletic department fails to realize the difference between having MBB and football ranked vs having the other 16 sports ranked in the top 25. Burke relaizes that it's a lot cheaper to higher good swimming and softball coaches, therefore he uses these non revenue sports as hiseans of acheiving this 25-85 goal. Really this top 25 average should be for weighted to account for revenues and fan interest.

Dustin Blythe said...

My mantra is: Why not the best? If a school like Boise State can build a football program that is a consistent Top 25 contender, why not Purdue?

The thing that bugs me about Purdue is the lack of a Committment To Excellence, the drive to play championship football. We seem to be content with being third or fourth best in the B1G.

Patrick said...

"We seem to be content with being third or fourth best in the B1G."

That's funny because we haven't been close to achieve even that goal in that last 6 years or so.

Plang said...

I don't think IU is catching up to us in Football - I think we are falling back to them, in a hurry.

It is a very sad state of affairs in La-La land these days.

Here is to a new president pushing some buttons, but not holding my breath that anything really changes.

Dustin Blythe said...

Kentucky has joined the Sonny Dykestakes: http://collegefootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/11/04/joker-phillips-out-as-uks-head-coach-at-seasons-end/

Brad said...

"We seem to be content with being third or fourth best in the B1G."

Frankly, when it comes to football, I'm more than content with that. I think a reasonable goal for Purdue is to reside in the upper half of the conference each year, compete against the best (occasionally knocking them off), with a shot at a conference championship at least once every 5 years when things are falling our way.

Up until 2005, Tiller brought us that. Were it not for "the fumble" and Orton's injuries in 2004, we probably could have competed for a conference title that year to follow up on our success in 2000. I'm cool with that.

Basketball, on the other hand, I want us to be perennially top 3 every year and always "in the hunt" for the title. The exceptions, such as this year when we're extremely inexperienced and the conference is stacked, should only be occurring once every 4-5 years or so.

BoilerBloodline said...

Brad, why? Why expect that from basketball but not football? And please don't say because we are in the state of Indiana OR that Purdue has always been stronger in basketball, because neither are true. It sickens me to know that Purdue Football has a significant number of players (starters - not bench warmers) in the NFL and are tied with Alabama with the most QB's to move on and win a Super Bowl. (3 - Dawson, Griese, Brees)And yet we continue to be half assed with our hiring, marketing, fan fare etc...Purdue Football use to be a force to be reckoned with. THERE IS NO REASON ANY PURDUE FOOTBALL FAN SHOULD BE ROOTING FOR "OKAY" PLACE. I eat sleep and breathe Purdue Football and Basketball, and NOT once have I ever been completely satisfied at seasons end...because we've never won "the big one" and 2nd place is just the first loser. Expect more until you get it. Being satisfied with anything less than first doesn't help the program.

Brad said...

BoilerBloodline,

Why? Because I'm trying to look at what is realistic. We don't have a strong recruiting base. We have 4 FBS programs in-state (including ND), and UM and OSU right over the border to poach the best Indiana players.

Building a power program is a long haul. We're talking 2 decades of steady improvement. Let's get there, and then start talking about "reloading" instead of "rebuilding" mode each year, and of competing perennially for a conference championship.

After all, look at Wisconsin. They took basically 2 decades to go from the "bad days" to where they are today. Only after those two decades are they sitting at a point where a 6-3 record is a "down year".

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