"Rock Bottom" Thoughts
It's that time of year when a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of fans of other teams hanging out in his city, playing some game for some title or something. (My company's holiday party was at a hotel in downtown Indy Saturday night, so the first thing I saw when I came down to the lobby to check out was a group of OSU fans. Fun times.) Because Purdue is obviously not involved, we've got an extra weekend to spend on things like talking about how far the program has fallen. OK, actually we talked about this after the Northwestern game, but you get the idea. The BS gang has been venting amongst ourselves for a while so that we can post slightly more coherent thoughts, but sometimes it's better just to go live with what you're thinking. Swamy and I took turns blowing up any remaining happy thoughts we had about 2014; what you see below is pretty much as it was sent. (Well, not the tables and graphs and stuff. You know what I mean.)
As to "rock bottom" questions...between attendance issues, poor performance, monetary investment in the new coaching staff, and no headline-grabbing talent, the two big questions I have are:
1) Has Purdue football cornered itself into a mediocrity-at-best position? 2) Are we, as the die-hard fans, overreacting to this stretch?
We found reasons to be optimistic just before the Northwestern game, and this season presented with a lot of positives to use as building blocks. But maybe we were the only ones encouraged...judging by the lack of attendance, the pervasive opinion of Purdue football within the fan base continues to be that they're not worth the effort to watch. I wanted to take a step back to see if the sudden attitude shift by most die-hards is justified or recency-biased by the souring end-of-season losing stretch.
Justified: Appleby, Shoop and the offense haven't looked good since Minnesota. Empty Ross-Ade seats seem to be four years in the making. At least Danny Hope could somehow pull 6 wins out of his behind, and win at least 1 game per season Purdue had no business winning. The stupid penalties and unexplainable coaching decisions are making frequent returns.
Recency bias: Michigan State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin are all really good teams, and the Minnesota almost-win looks considerably more impressive now. Northwestern just beat a very good ND team. [Ed. note: At the time, they hadn't yet been crushed by Illinois.] Injuries to critical players are emphasized because Purdue doesn't have the most talent-rich roster.
Now, let's take stock of the program since Curtis Painter's Heisman-hopeful senior season:
TOTAL: 4 wins, 8 losses
Record against OSU since 2008: 2-4 Record against ND since 2008: 0-7 Record against IU since 2008: 4-3 Record against ranked teams since 2008: 3-20 NFL players since 2008: Stanford Keglar, Cliff Avril, Dustin Keller, Curtis Painter, Alex Magee, Mike Neal, Ryan Kerrigan, Nick Mondek, Dennis Kelly, KK Short, Kevin Pamphile, Rico Allen.
This email was to save on therapy bills/eventual liver replacement surgery.
Purdue football has arguably been mediocrity-at-best for all of modern history - the multi-bowl history of the Big Ten (1975-present). You could even make a case for going back farther; even under Mollenkopf, Purdue never won an outright title, and the year they shared one, Indiana shared one of its two. They haven't won an outright title since 1929; even Chicago's last outright Big Ten crown was only four years before that. Six of the other "original" nine schools also lay claim to a national title (Indiana, Wisconsin??? and Northwestern do not).
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Tiller's peak year, 2000, was a perfect example of Purdue-ness. The Boilers beat both the other co-champions, but lost to sub-.500 teams Penn State and Michigan State, then lost to a loaded Washington team in the Rose Bowl. Tiller's teams posted 11 wins over top-25 competition, which sounds pretty good until you figure out how many games they played - he was 11-39 by my count. What Tiller changed was Purdue's record against middle-of-the-pack teams, which is how he got the team into bowl games. He continued to struggle against the top teams.
IME this leads directly to Purdue's position in overall athletics: the little kid fighting for a seat at the table with the big boys. Small stadium + low interest = poor revenue. Poor revenue + no support from the school (not that there's any to go around these days) = low budget for athletics; even with billlllllions in TV money, that just keeps Purdue on pace with conference opponents. In the best of times, it's dicey to try to improve, because you can't fix things overnight. See: Ross-Ade renovations. In the worst of times, what do you fix first?
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2013 was the worst season in Purdue history by just about any metric you want to measure. The longest sub-0 SRS stretch Purdue's had was eight seasons, from 1986-1993; the current streak, counting 2014, is five. Strength of schedule was generally higher in those days, though. Colletto "ended" the streak with a couple of four-win campaigns against difficult schedules: in 1995, 6 of 11 opponents were ranked, and Purdue beat one and lost to three others by a touchdown or less. (Oddly, that season also featured a 39-38 loss at Minnesota.)
Given the growth that other programs are experiencing, I think it'd be hard to argue that this isn't the worst period in Purdue football history ... not so much because of where the team is, but because of what hasn't happened, and what could be happening. The signs that Hazell can handle the job at this level are rapidly disappearing, but you can't really give him the boot after two years. If you do, it's not like Purdue's going to get Mullen, and really, would you want a guy like Muschamp?
Uh, this isn't helping your liver, is it?
As you said:
Small stadium + low interest = poor revenue.Poor revenue + no support from the school = low budget for athletics
That's pretty much it, right? Purdue doesn't have unlimited resources, so Burke chose to upgrade facilities, figuring non-embarrassing physical assets would automatically change the on-the-field product, and profit the whole time. Not really an ideal plan, as we found out the hard way.
As it has been proven time and time again: put out a quality product on the field, and fans/interest will come...regardless of a few lackluster facilities.
In Burke's defense, it's always been this way. He's at least tried some things that helped - but he's also set lofty goals that can't possibly be achieved. Top-25 programs across the board? Hahahahaha. That takes serious cash, Morgan, and even then, you're at the mercy of competition. (Volleyball is a good example. In another conference, they'd probably have 1-2 losses and look like a top-25 team; in the Big Ten, they'll be lucky to make the NCAA tournament. [As it turned out, they did not.])
I think you're right, that Burke thought what he was doing would be enough, instead of only a start. The same thing applies to the non-revenue sports: AIUI the upgrades weren't to make Purdue near the top of the heap (Holloway is nice but still small), but simply to replace outdated, crappy facilities. That's good, but you still need coaching, recruiting, etc., and to do that, you have to consistently pay for better coaches. The slot-machine approach gives you slot-machine results.