Mr. Burke, I Owe You An Apology
For years, I’ve thought that most of the athletic department’s woes were due to the stewardship of Morgan Burke…It turns out, I was wrong. Sure, a bit more passion from the athletic director would be great to see...and it might even move the needle. And I’d love to hear an athletic director set lofty, ambitious goals and meet them, which Burke really hasn’t in quite a while. But the catastrophe that has become of our Alma Mater’s Athletic Department is a result of the directives from higher up. We’re now one-third of the way through the basketball season, and it looks like an NCAA tournament bid is a moon shot. When Purdue fails to make the tourney, it will be our third-straight year without real post-season play. During the same period, Purdue has gone to one bowl game, after a .500 regular season, in which the squad had its clock cleaned. Since that bowl game, Purdue has won a mere four games. In spite of a 4-20 run the athletic director has not demanded any changes within Coach Hazell’s staff…something we perceive as a need. Versus in-state rivals, IU and Notre Dame, Purdue has gone a combined 1-5.
The basketball team isn’t much better…yet the staff stays the same. Much like Hazell’s contract, Painter’s is written in a way that a buyout would be financially crippling. Granted, Hazell is in the midst of a rebuild, whereas Painter is in year 10 of his time back at his Alma Mater as coach.
Painter’s buyout would cost Purdue just under $10,000,000 if he was to be fired before June of 2015. In other words, the chances of Painter being fired are about as good as me taking Paul George’s spot on the Pacers until he returns next season [If it means you unleash those milky-white guns, I am all for it. -J]. While I appreciate the passion, and pleas for a change at the Head Coaching position, I’m also the unofficial Mayer of Realville. As self-appointed Mayor, I declare that this won’t happen. So it will be.
Following the debacle versus Notre Dame last weekend, many, myself included hoped to see some change…someplace within the athletic department. After all, Purdue has now gone 0-4 versus Notre Dame and Butler (in the same period, Purdue has gone 1-6 versus IU during conference play). For those of you who weren’t math majors, that’s 1-10 versus Butler, Notre Dame and IU in the last four seasons (so far).
Perhaps, even the non-athletic department types…you know, those in academia, might get sick of watching Purdue get her collective clock cleaned versus in-state rivals (at least). But that’s not the case at all.
Burke received a contract extension last summer (while in the midst of the worst period of combined ineptitude of the revenue-generating sports in the modern era), his associate AD got a raise and a new title, Painter and his staff has stayed in-tact and so has Hazell’s. In fact, Hazell’s coordinators were congratulated on a job well-done by their big boss, Mr. Burke.
Turns out, as we’ve been filled with frustration then anger then apathy (for some) about the on-field results, we’ve been looking in the wrong place.
Many of us have written e-mails to Mr. Burke expressing our disgust with what’s been happening. Others have stopped buying tickets and attending games…others still have even stopped giving money to the JPC. In almost every account that I’ve heard in the wake of these actions, few pleas to retain you have been sent back. That seems odd.
I think many Purdue fans believe that as ticket holders, AD donors and alums, Mr. Burke (and those up high in the Athletic Department) need to answer to us; almost as if we’re his boss. We all know that’s not true…and are reminded of that from time to time.
Mr. Burke has a job thanks to the Board of Trustees. The group that’s behind the curtain as Burke and Daniels dodge arrows from alums and donors calls the shots at the end of the day. They hired both Burke and Daniels…and when we hear one of them talk about a major initiative in public, we’re hearing the Board.
Recently, a form letter was brought to my attention that Mitch Daniels had been sending out as recently as last month. As a reply to disgruntled Purdue fans, Daniels reminds us that the goals for the school are being met through the athletic department:
"On taking up my new duties, I gave our Athletics Director the following guidance, and said the exact same thing to the entire campus. Three things come ahead of all others: 1) high standards of conduct; 2) genuine academic performance; and 3) economic self-sufficiency. After that, I want to win every game, meet, and match, but winning at the expense of principle is not an acceptable tradeoff. So far, Purdue's adherence to these principles has been exemplary.
Our Athletic Director, too, has shown a willingness to act decisively based on performance. He has, in my short time here, replaced four of our eighteen head coaches and, of course, replaced the football coach just two years, and one single recruiting season, ago.
Our all-sports winning record is solid. Our teams dominated IU in the new all-sports Governor's Cup competition. Our men's basketball program is clearly returning to its traditional contender status. I think it's fair to say that your frustration, which I share, is a one-sport phenomenon. On an all-in basis, our A.D. is meeting expectations, mine and the Board of Trustees."
You might not have heard those exact words, but when I read them, everything made sense immediately. In the top three priorities of the school for the athletic department, winning is not even secondary or tertiary. It’s an also-ran…really a non-factor. And it shows.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it eventually shows itself on the field of play…which we’ve been seeing the last few years. The bigger problem for the Trustees and the school, is that an unused, dormant tool for the school as it seeks to attract students, is wilting and dying.
While running this site, I’ve heard a ton of accounts of people who said something like- “After I saw Brees beat Notre Dame in person, I knew I wanted to go to Purdue.” Or, “When I was at Mackey when Moore went berserk versus Ohio State, I knew I wanted to be a part of the Paint Crew.”
The Paint Crew has become an ever-shrinking group of die-hard students…and Ross-Ade hardly has anyone in attendance during games (students or alums). Forget the fact that Purdue never beats ranked opponents in football anymore, and that they’ve gone 3-25 versus ranked teams in basketball in the last three years; just for a moment. The new standard of sub-mediocre play that’s been set by the university is starting to become a morale drain…and worse.
As a good friend of mine put it recently, “Big Ten Network money has the perverse effect (for Purdue and others in the conference, apparently) of encouraging complacency, stagnation, mediocrity & small thinking.”
This influx of around $24 million dollars/year has made awful attendance acceptable (for the first time in my life) for Purdue’s athletic department…and more importantly, those who call the shots.
An estimated $7 million/year is gobbled up by the university as a cost of doing business on campus. This flow of money has kept the university fat and happy with crappy products and a game day that very few want to be a part of any longer. The remaining $17 million dollars can only go so far…especially as season ticket sales dwindle and dwindle and nearly disappear.
This model, as it stands now, is destined for failure (something I'm sure Mr. Burke is aware of). The ever-important economic self-sufficiency (or point number three from Daniels’ list of athletic department priorities) will not be met much longer if on-field failures continue as they have for the last few years. From folks born in black and gold diapers, to alums who simply love going to Purdue as it is their favorite form of family entertainment- Many have simply had enough, and no longer feel that purchasing tickets is a wise, nor enjoyable way to spend their money.
I love that Purdue has student athletes that get good grades and seem to be good people. BUT, the idea that Purdue teams can’t compete AND meet these goals is foolish and defeatist. In fact, if Purdue wants to espouse the three priorities as the end-all, be-all, without a mention of winning in such a list, it’s time for a radical change.
Mr. Burke has mentioned that he doesn’t want to enter an arms race with the rest of the conference. That idea goes along quite well with what President Daniels expressed. Fine. Let’s drop the football program down to FCS, put some tarps over the North end zone (to match the patio on the other side), and leave the Big Ten in basketball.
Wait, I’d bet the Trustees wouldn’t want that now, would they? I believe they want to continue to collect their portion of the BTN money…but at the same time, no one who is in the position to make decisions, is pushing for competition. Seems ironic, doesn’t it?
When Daniels was hired by Purdue, I was excited…after reading this form letter, I was disappointed...but not really surprised.
His focus on frugality and scholastics is his story as Purdue's president. Instead of utilizing the athletic department as a vital arm of promotions for the university, his gaze is elsewhere.
At the same time, Mr. Burke is simply done fighting. In his defense, why should he fight for better results any longer? His contract should take him to retirement…and if he leaves in the next few years, Purdue will still be in the black. Barely.
The foci of President Daniels, Director Burke and the group in the shadows, the Trustees, are all consistent. That is a team that is well-coached and winning while achieving its goals.
Sadly, winning on the field of play is not a priority for them, and the trickle down is what we’ve seen at Mackey and in Ross-Ade during the last few years.
By not engaging in the arms race, by no longer striving for championships, Purdue’s athletic department is getting dismantled…game by unwatchable game.