Incredibly, Purdue’s Athletic Department is Worse Than You Think
It’s always amazing to me when something we all know to be in poor condition – such as, oh, I don’t know, the management, vision and direction of Purdue’s athletic department – can actually continue to surprise me by finding new and inventive ways to be even worse than we imagined. Maybe we’re all becoming numb to it, but even if that’s the case, it’s almost worse. Apathy is about the worst thing than can happen to a fan base in any sport. When people just don’t care anymore, you’re then mired in hopelessness. At least when the fans are angry, you’ve got some kind of emotional investment. When they just stop caring, it’s like the end of a relationship. The breakup is where you call the time of death of the relationship and stop chest compressions. But what do you do when it seems as though apathay has infected the highest decision makers in your program’s athletic department?
Toss in the facts that Purdue is in a Power 5 conference and that big time college athletics – particularly football, where Purdue inexplicably seems to be the most indifferent to winning – are exploding in popularity and investment and you’ve got a recipe for not only mockery from others, but mockery and derision from within the Purdue community. And that’s never good.
I used to vehemently defend Purdue, coming back at mocking posts or comments with a fiery defense that sometimes wasn’t based in anything factual but rather was driven by pride in my school. Now I see remarks like this one from Eleven Warriors (a post I recommended yesterday on social media and, seriously, read it because it’s a simply brilliant takedown of rooting for your conference blindly) and simply say, yep, that’s about right:
Purdue deserves that sort of derision. They’ve earned it. And, quite frankly, I’m not sure I’ve seen it summed up so succinctly. That it is that obvious to those outside the family should be of even more concern. However, nobody recognizes this at Purdue. Or nobody cares. Again, that scares me more than ignorance.
This week has been particularly painful, as Athlon published this lovely quote about something we all sort of knew, but man, does it hurt to see it in print:
“What they were doing on defense last year didn’t make a lot of sense. It was just very predictable and didn’t do anything to cause you problems.” – An opposing Big Ten assistant coach
As Boilerdowd said to us via email, “Are you saying that since I could figure out everything from the stands that real football people could, too? Shocking.”
And, of course, there is this report from PennLive about the richest and poorest football programs in the Big Ten. PennLive sought to go past the “free money” that programs get from the BTN deal and dive in to gross revenue for the conference football programs. And if you’ve spent any time in the business world, you know that there’s a difference between “revenue” and “profit,” so the alarmingly mediocre revenue number for Purdue is…. well, I’m running out of words to use for “concerning.”
Unsurprisingly, Purdue is at the absolute bottom of the Big Ten. Well, maybe I shouldn’t assume we’d all expect them to be there, but let’s just say it shouldn’t be a surprise that for fiscal year 2014-2015 Purdue football was not a revenue juggernaut. It becomes sort of…..distressing…when you see how far behind they are. Not just from the “blue bloods” of the conference (OSU, UM), not just from the programs that 15 years ago Purdue was similar to or actually beyond (think, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State), but even behind the programs that Purdue should be able to compete with all the time. Let’s just cut to the chase here since PennLive likes to do things in the Bleacher Report-like “slideshow” format:
Michigan -- $88.3 million ($56.6 M profit)
Ohio State -- $83.5 million ($51M profit)
Penn State -- $71.3 million ($36.2M profit)
Nebraska -- $60.6 million ($31.4M profit)
Michigan State -- $59.2 million ($21.5M profit)
Iowa -- $52.4 million ($26.9M profit)
Wisconsin -- $44.8 million ($18M profit)
Minnesota -- $35.8 million (~$9.5M profit)
Northwestern -- $31.7 million ($10.8M profit)
Maryland -- $30.9 million ($14.8M profit)
Illinois -- $30.8 million ($12.5M profit)
Indiana -- $27.5 million ($9.5M profit)
Rutgers -- $26.9 million ($6.8M profit)
Purdue -- $17.1 million ($1.5M profit)
I mean, just…. Wow. Purdue is $71 million dollars behind Michigan. Purdue made $1.5 million in profit, not even one year of Coach Hazell’s contract. When you see these kinds of annual figures, you can understand how UM can pay to make Rodriguez and Hoke go away and still overpay Harbaugh. You can see how Nebraska can fire Bo Pelini and pay him off. And you can be forgiven if you have no sympathy for the way most Iowa fans (aside from last year) feel that Kirk Ferentz is overpaid. They have millions and millions of dollars in profit – every year – in addition to the massive TV payouts (currently $32 million per year, per program, not including the newbies to the conference).
And hold on a minute…. Weren’t Burke’s biggest braggart moments of that past two decades always around how self-sustaining the Purdue athletic department is, as compared to other universities? How can you lean on the crutch of “fiscal responsibility” as a tacit excuse for a lack of athletic competitiveness for so long and then have it revealed that on your watch, Morgy, Purdue football is a fiscal disaster?
To anyone who would say that, well, Purdue did turn a profit so it’s not officially a “disaster,” well, you’re wrong there, too, and you’re probably related to Morgan Burke if you’re defending him. Having so little in the way of profit means you are handcuffed to your bad decisions. You can’t necessarily blame Burke for paying Darrell Hazell and Hazell turning out to be a mistake. But you can blame Burke for putting Purdue football in a position where they have no choice but to hold their nose and wait out this albatross of a contract – a contract that wouldn’t be an albatross anywhere else in the Big Ten. Sigh.
Again, it’s not that Purdue isn’t the cash cow that Michigan is. That’s to be expected. It’s always the way it’s been. But when you’re being doubled up in revenue generation by Minnesota, well, you have to begin to ask some hard questions. Is Purdue even a Big Ten program at this point? Sure, basketball tends to show well (and, as the article points out, turned almost double the profit of the football team in this study), but that’s just not enough. Football is king and even if you don’t think it should be important, it is important if you’re in the Power 5. The upsetting thing is that it’s not really important to the three guys who are most in a position to do something about it – Morgan Burke, Mitch Daniels and Michael Berghoff. Look at this quote from Berghoff when Purdue finally committed some money to improve the football facilities, which were woefully behind even the likes of INDIANA football:
"We didn't start out the conversation by saying we wanted to go from last to first," Berghoff said. "We said we all want the football team to work out all at once in the weight room when they want to and not have to schedule it around other sports. We want to have a facility that allows the football team to meet as a group all in one location in the team meeting room. We want to have a facility that allows the coaches to each have an individual office and not share offices. We don't want a facility with a barber shop. We want to be competitive in the middle, and we're fortunate enough that we've got enough other reasons to become a student-athlete at Purdue that we don't have to have the facility carry the load."
Purdue – aiming for the middle of the pack. And just in case you think that’s me being my smarmy self, Berghoff – the board of trustees chairman and a highly possible candidate for the next athletic director – said it himself in there. We want to be competitive in the middle.
And then the comment immediately following that….yes, there are other reasons to come to Purdue. We all know that. But are there other reasons why a four or five star football player might come to Purdue? Uh, well, no, not many. I mean, the winters are beautiful (you can see your breath, right across this dingy, gray February sky!) but I think it’s safe to say there is competition for good athletes in this conference. To say things like there are other reasons to be a student-athlete at Purdue besides the facilities, it a staggeringly out of touch statement. That it was made by Michael Berghoff is telling as to why Purdue football is in serious trouble.
We’ve documented President Mitch’s famed remarks about not getting into an arms race in athletics. And we’ve also talked about Morgan Burke’s many remarks that make it clear he’s living in a 1960s world. You know, like advocating for going back to the days when freshmen weren’t eligible for varsity athletics or resisting modern advancements like stadium lights. These sorts of comments are what you might expect from an archeology professor who is annoyed that there is money being put into the football uniforms rather than his dig. But they’re coming from, as I said, the three guys who could actually make a difference.
Illinois hired Josh Whitman as its AD and he immediately canned Bill Cubit and hired Lovie Smith. On his first full damn day. We fully expect him to make a splashy basketball hire when John Groce’s players stage a coup next season. Morgan Burke went cheap – has always gone cheap – when Joe Tiller’s time was over, hoping Danny Hope would magically be the answer. He wasn’t, and the program was so far down that even spending some dough at that point wasn’t enough. That he has seemingly made an even bigger misstep with Darrell Hazell would be enough to be fired at nearly all Power 5 schools. But not at Purdue. Nope, Morgan Burke will get his victory lap and – dear god – might actually have a hand in Hazell’s successor if a change is made sometime between now and next summer.
Morgan Burke previously was a VP at Inland Steel. Does running operations for a steel company compare to leading a “have-not” athletics program? I’m having a hard time finding the similarities. When steel is needed – and there are a lot of things in the world that need steel on a regular basis – there’s not a lot to be done to keep the revenues streaming in. At a place like Purdue, creative energy is always needed.
Remember when Burke almost left Purdue? At the risk of making you sad all over again, think about what might have been as you read this Purdue news bulletin from October 1, 1997.
But what if Morgan Burke was indeed in a high position at a place like Inland Steel for the past couple of decades? And let’s say that Inland’s revenues and profits were that far behind their 13 nearest competitors? Would Morgan get to continue making his half-million-plus salary for basically as long as he wants before riding off into the sunset? I don’t think he would.
So here we are. A program and an athletic department that is worse than inept – they simply don’t get it and they don’t want to get it.
It’s okay if you want to scream now.