A Legacy of Less
In November, New Mexico won the second national title in the history of the school, dominating women's cross country by placing all five scorers in the top 25 overall and posting the lowest score in a championship meet in nearly 35 years.
In July, Coastal Carolina won their sixth straight elimination game to knock off Arizona for the NCAA baseball title, the Chanticleers' first in any sport. Along the way, Coastal Carolina beat NC State twice in Raleigh, LSU twice in Baton Rouge, Florida in their opener in Omaha, and TCU and Arizona twice each in games that would have sent the Chanticleers packing had they lost.
In between, the NCAA crowned DI champions in 20-some different sports, and to no one's surprise, none of them wore Old Gold and Black (at least, not the correct versions of those). To be fair, if I had written a year-end summary for each season that Morgan Burke has been the athletic director at Purdue, two of them would have closely resembled one of those two opening paragraphs: in 1999, the Boilers won the second team title in the history of the school, with just a one-point loss at Stanford separating them from an unbeaten season, coasting to victory by posting six straight double-digit wins in the NCAA tournament. In 2010, the women's golf team posted the second-lowest four-round score in title history to edge USC by a single stroke. As with basketball, Purdue became the first Big Ten school to win a women's national title in that sport.
If you're one of our occasional readers, everything beyond the first sentence in that last paragraph is probably news to you. If you're older, you might have remembered 1999 (and the 2001 team that lost to the school from South Bend in the title game), but even if you are a religious reader of my posts (hi, Doc!), you probably don't know much about women's golf, and you'd draw a complete blank if I asked you who the coach is. He's Devon Brouse, a rare hire for Burke: someone who'd demonstrated success at the DI level before he came to Purdue (6 ACC title and an individual national champion at North Carolina), and rarer still, someone who's had regular success at Purdue. Six conference titles, four top-three NCAA finishes (second in 2007 and 2011 and third in 2013) and an individual champion (Maria Hernandez in 2009).
What you are familiar with is the legacy that Burke will leave in the two major sports, football and men's basketball ... and you probably also have a sneaking suspicion that that legacy is pretty much the same for the program as a whole. We've talked about Burke's five-year "plan" at length here, mostly to point out the huge difference between Burke's stated goals - a top-25 finish across all sports - and what could be expected from the plan itself. With 2015-16 finally over, we can report that in the last year where Burke's successor is unknown, the Boilers are no closer to Burke's dreamland than they were at the inception of the plan, and if anything, they're actually farther away.
The good news is that Purdue popped back up to their usual finish in the 40s, resting comfortably at 45th and nudging just ahead of Iowa for 11th in the conference since the beginning of the Directors' Cup standings. The bad news is yet again, Purdue hasn't broken into the top 30, never mind the heights they'd have to reach to hit Morgy's target (remember, an average top-25 finish, roughly 49 points per sport across 20 sports, would put you about 10th overall).
To get an idea of how far back Purdue is, I made some colors:
So ... yeah. This is clearly one of those scales your physics prof warned you about, where 35 spots up is not the same distance as 35 spots down. The Boilers finished right in the middle of the pack position-wise ... but were over 800 points behind conference leader Ohio State (numbers to the left are the schools' overall positions, and yes, Nebraska and Wisconsin tied). For those who don't remember, NACDA awards 100 points for a title, then decreases points in sports with brackets by round, 90-83-73-64-50, and 25 if you're out in the first round. Sports without tournaments get 100 for 1st down to 5 or 10 for last. (Interested folks can dig in to the PDF here.)
Four sports made the 25th-or-better cutoff: women's volleyball (2nd-round loss), women's swimming (23rd), men's indoor track and field (13th - thanks, Chuk!), and men's outdoor track and field (15th - thanks again, Chuk!). The best the department has done was nine, in 2008-09 ... and even that only got the Boilers a 38th-place finish overall.
In 2006-07, the first year with the current scoring system, Purdue finished in 35th, 603 points behind #4 Michigan. Seven sports earned 49 points or more, topped by women's golf's 2nd-place finish (oddly not mentioned in Brouse's profile) and an Elite Eight appearance from women's basketball.
So this is what we have. One sport that is a legitimate power (women's golf), four sports that are solid as often as not (volleyball, women's swimming, men's swimming - well, outstanding diving as much as anything - and women's basketball), and two sports that poke their heads above water reasonably often (wrestling and men's basketball). More than could be said when Burke took over in 1993, but less than he promised, less than he planned for, and much, much less than he actually thought he could deliver. In the meantime, the engine that generates the heat that warms most of the rest of the department, football, has been running on empty long enough that Burke's successor will have his* work cut out for him.
Burke and the various presidents he's worked for seem proud of their ability to run an athletic department on less. It's sad that they seem unwilling to acknowledge that the results are always less than they've attempted to deliver. As the rising tide of television money lifts all boats to a certain level, Purdue seems content to float on the surface, while the schools they imagine they're competing with are flying seaplanes to heights no Purdue AD has ever been able to reach. (I get paid by the metaphor, if that's what you're wondering.) There is no reason to believe the next AD will be any better than the current one; at best, it'll be someone who can explain why finishing 6th in a 14-team superconference is really something we ought to be proud of**.
It's gross outside, and we've got almost two months until volleyball kicks off and two more until basketball (BIGGIE), so I thought it might be instructive to put together a couple more posts about how not-successful Burke has been here. (Hi Mitch! Didn't think you'd have your people reading the site after the way we've treated Morgy. In case you're wondering, here's some advice: hire an AD who can grow a mediocre power-conference team into a contender, someone who can raise money with the best of them and also spend it wisely. Don't hire another meh person and dump them on your successor.)
I mean, it's either this or football, right?
*Purdue is hardly the type of school to be a trend-setter; they don't even bring back prominent female coaches, so it's hard to imagine them hiring a female AD.
**Not to knock the efforts of the athletes at all - they do the best they can with the resources they're given. But I can't imagine they're any happier with the general state of things than we are, and in fact, it's probably worse for them, because they know exactly what's going on while we only hear bits and pieces of it.