Is Purdue the worst athletic program in the Big Ten?
The conclusion of the NCAA Track and Field Championships this weekend brought an official end to the athletic year for Purdue. While there were certainly some highlights, once again, our beloved Boilermakers find themselves well behind the rest of the Big Ten on a national scale and even at a conference level. I have to admit that it is frustrating to see our hated rivals to the south send a team to the College World Series for the first time just a year after a team that was practically a mirror image of theirs flamed out at its own regional. The finish of the sports year has me asking that question above, however.
Is Purdue the worst athletic program in the Big Ten?
As of this writing Purdue is dead last in the Big Ten in terms of NCAA-recognized (read: non-football) Championships. Purdue has a grand total of three, and has not won one in a men's sport in over 50 years (Golf 1961). Northwestern has the next most with only eight (though seven occurred during a seven-year women's lacrosse run that ended this year). At least once Rutgers joins Purdue will have an edge on them, as they have just one NCAA title (Men's fencing, 1949).
On a Big Ten scale the numbers look even worse. Purdue has 70 conference championships, ahead of only relative newcomers Penn State (61) and Nebraska (3). Nearly a third of those are in Men's basketball. Granted, Purdue sponsors the fewest sports of any school in the conference with 18, but the numbers don't lie. We simply do not match-up with the rest of the Big Ten and have a long way to go. Northwestern (71) is the only team Purdue is close to and it is so bad that the University of Chicago, with 73 Big Ten Championships, is still ahead of Purdue all-time in all sports despite not having competed in the conference since 1946.
Hopefully things can continue upward with the debut of new facilities in recent years, but this year saw very little overall success:
Purdue finished at or near the bottom of the Big Ten in both the men's and women's championships. Both teams won the Valparaiso Crusader Invitational to start the season, but at the Big Ten meet the men finished 9th and the women 11th. Matthew McClintock qualified for the NCAA Championships along with fellow freshman Johnnie Guy. McClintock finished 103rd nationally and Guy 183rd, so there is some promise on the men's side going forward.
The non-conference season was good, but Purdue went 2-8-1 in the Big Ten to finished 7-10-2 on the year and well behind in the league. The Boilers haven't made the NCAA Tournament now since 2009 and have fallen hard since being a National seed in 2007. Jordan Pawlik led the team with nine goals, but Purdue only scored 27 on the season.
This was a roller coaster ride, as Purdue brought back an experienced team that had Final Four aspirations. Purdue started the season ranked Ninth and entered Big Ten play at 9-2 overall with not bad losses to Washington and Louisville. In the Big Ten, which was the toughest volleyball conference in the nation, Purdue went just 12-8 with some pretty awful losses to Iowa and Indiana. The Boilers made the NCAAs, however, and were sent to Florida State. They swept Colorado State and upset the host Seminoles to reach the Regional round at Mackey Arena. Once there, Minnesota beat Purdue 3-1 to end in the Sweet 16.
Purdue has now reached at least the Sweet 16 in three straight seasons and has a memorable upset of No. 1 overall seed Florida in 2010, but the Boilers can't break through the ceiling of the regional round. Still, coach Dave Shondell has done an excellent job rebuilding a program that was pretty moribund as recently as 2003. The Boilers have reached at least the Sweet 16 in 6 of the last 8 seasons.
It has been hashed over plenty of times here, but the season was basically a disaster. Instead of challenging for the conference title like many expected, we fired Danny Hope, hired Darrell Hazell, played musical quarterbacks between three guys, completely no-showed in three big home games, and were maddeningly inconsistent all year. The bowl game was as unmerciful of a beating as you will see outside of snuff films.
Swimming & Diving
The men's team was respectable in finishing fifth in the Big Ten and 25th nationally. Once again, Purdue was led by its great diving contingent, which scored 14 of 26 points at the NCAA meet. Alec Back placed third at the Big Ten meet in the 1-meter diving while the 400 Medley Relay Team was fourth. Jamie Bissett was third on the platform at the Big Ten meet as well.
On the women's side Purdue finished fifth at the Big Ten meet and 19th at the NCAA Championships. MacKenzie Tweardy was runner-up in two diving events (because we OWN diving) Lauren Gustafson was runner-up in the 100 Freestyle. Purdue finished third in the 400 freestyle relay as well.
The lone National Champion for Purdue in any sport did come from diving as Casey Matthews won the 1-meter NCAA championship back in March.
No one is going to catch Iowa, Penn State, or Minnesota in Big Ten wrestling, as they have cornered the market and are light years ahead of everyone else. Purdue did go 17-6 in dual meets, but finished only ninth in the Big Ten. At the NCAA matches 149-pound wrestler Ivan Lopouchanski was Purdue's best finisher with a seventh place finish to earn All-America honors.
Much like Volleyball, there were very high hopes for a good year at the start. Purdue was finally experienced, talented, and healthy after a number of injuries and started the year in the top 15. There were predictable beatdowns by UConn and Notre Dame in the non-conference, but Purdue was 15-2 and No. 12 in the nation after beating Minnesota on January 17. The Boilers got to 18-3 before losing four of five, including a very ugly loss at the last second in Bloomington. Purdue won the Purdue Invitational, I mean Big Ten Tournament, yet again, but fell in the NCAA second round to a Louisville team playing at home. Louisville went on to be the national runner-up, while Purdue was a somewhat disappointing 25-9 and just 10-6 in conference.
We've been over it. It sucked, especially losing by 37 at home to Indiana and hearing about how awesome they were all year long. The highlight for the fans at least was probably Syracuse
doing humanity a favor beating Indiana. It was that bad.
Track & Field
Technically this counts as four of Purdue's 18 sports, as the indoor and outdoor seasons for each gender count as separate sports. Purdue wasn't very good in any of them. The Boilers finished 10th for the men and ninth for the women in the indoor Big Ten championships. Vanessa McLeod at least won the indoor 800-meter title. At the NCAA indoor meet Chukwuebuka Enekwechi finished third overall nationally in the shot put.
During the outdoor season Purdue was ninth for the men and 10th for the women at the Big Ten championships. At the NCAA meet only Dani Bunch scored a single point for the women by finishing eighth in the shot put. Geoff Davis was outstanding by finishing third in the high jump for the only men's points at the NCAA meet.
Purdue was 19-12 overall, but just 3-8 against the Big Ten and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. This was improvement over a 10-16 2011 season, so men's tennis does appear to be on the rise.
A year after shockingly ending Northwestern's stranglehold at the Big Ten Tournament the Purdue women's team had a solid season, going 18-6 and 9-4 in the Big Ten. The season was capped with a 4-3 win over South Carolina in the NCAA Tournament down in Miami before the Boilers lost 4-0 in a few close matches to the host Hurricanes, who were seeded sixth nationally. The win over the Gamecocks was just Purdue's second ever in NCAA history and first since 2006. This was also the first time that Purdue made the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons.
Purdue should be decent going forward with only Gisella Pere as a senior leaving the program and Mara Schmidt as the lone junior. Both men's and women's tennis have the fantastic tennis complex out at the Northwest site too.
The latest program to get a facilities upgrade, softball went 23-32 and 8-15 in the Big Ten, losing to eventual College World Series participant 3-2 in the Big Ten tourney. Purdue had a whopping 17 losses by 1-run or in extra innings, which would have made for a drastically different result had a few games there swung their way. Purdue only got to play 10 of 55 games at home and was a dismal 3-7 at home.
Coach Kim Maher, who led Purdue to its only NCAA Tournament appearances in 2008 and 2009, resigned at the end of the season with a 240-204-3 record. The Big Ten often sends a team or two to the Women's College World Series (Michigan and Nebraska went this year), so with a new field coming soon the program has a chance to make a big leap forward.
Purdue finished seventh in the Big Ten championships and failed to even make an NCAA regional after a decent year. Adam Schenk was the Boilers' best finisher at the Big Ten event with a fifth place finish.
The pride and joy of the athletic program at the moment, the women's golf team continued it fantastic Big Ten and National run with a tie for Purdue's only Big Ten regular season championship as an athletics program. Purdue won multiple in-season tournaments and its sixth Big Ten crown when it tied with Northwestern.
At the NCAA meet Purdue was in contention throughout, but a USC team that had edged Purdue by just one stroke in regional play ran away with the national title. Purdue finished third nationally for its eighth straight top 10 finish at the NCAAs and third straight Third place finish. That was preceded by the 2010 national title, so seniors Laura Gonzalez-Escallon, Kishi Sinha, and Paula Reto never finished worse than third at the NCAA meet when you add in the 2010 National title.
Purdue has finished in the top 5 at the NCAA meet in six of the past seven years.
The final sport saw the most dramatic reversal of a team's fortunes in recent memory. After going 45-14 in 2012, setting a program record for wins, winning the Big Ten for the first time in 103 years, reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years and only second time ever, and winning an NCAA game for the first time Purdue could not have done worse. Purdue fell to 17-34 and saw Indiana replicate and exceed Purdue's 2012 season by actually winning the regional it hosted and a Super Regional to become the first Big Ten team in 29 years reach the College World Series. Purdue did open the brand new and beautiful Alexander Field, but was 1-11 in conference play at home and 5-14 overall.
That last paragraph pretty much sums up what it often feels like to be a Purdue sports fan. Triumphs are often measured on a national scale for most programs and Purdue simply is not a player in that arena despite being in one of the best conferences you can be in and have all of the advantages that such a situation affords. We have oodles of money coming in from the Big Ten Network. We have top notch facilities. We have competitive schedules among the nation's best in almost every sport to prepare our own athletes. Still, aside from women's golf (which honestly overachieves) Purdue seems to "find the banana peel" often in the most painful way possible. The best examples:
- The Fumble - When the 2004 football team could have taken a major leap forward in national perception in front of millions of viewers nationwide. Instead of winning that game and (possibly) a national title it started a four-game losing streak and eventually lead to Danny Hope.
- That Game - When the 2009-10 basketball team was playing not just like a Final Four contender, but a National title contender. Minnesota was a good, but desperate team that came out needing a win over a "name" opponent to keep its NCAA hopes alive. Then we all know what happened, and will forever wonder "What if". it is a "what if" that still resonates, as a Final Four (or National title) in 2010 likely has a drastic effect on recruiting in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
- March 2011 - On February 20, 2011 Purdue took the nation's best basketball team during the 2010-11 season and made them quit in the loudest game ever at Mackey Arena. Suddenly Purdue was in the running for a No. 1 seed even without Robbie Hummel and a Big Ten title was possible. Purdue would beat Indiana and Michigan State (by 20!) on the road before a senior day win over Illinois. That win over the Illini, on March 1, was the first sign of trouble as Purdue didn't look right in finishing an undefeated home season. Purdue then lost at an awful Iowa team, got stomped by Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament, walloped the weakest 14 seed ever in St. Peter's, then was run out of the gym by VCU. Over a span of three weeks all the hard work and respect Purdue had earned back after Hummel's second injury was flushed away.
- 2012 Baseball - Purdue did not finish Alexander Field in time to play a deserved home regional after its best season ever, but cruised past Valparaiso to reach 45-12. After winning a game at No. 2 UCLA and getting a number of other good wins Omaha looked like a strong possibility. Purdue led 2-1 and had two outs with no one on in the second inning and Lance Breedlove on the mound when it fell apart, giving up five runs in a 7-3 loss. The next day a dropped fly ball in center field led to a 4-run inning in a 6-3 loss to Kentucky. In less than 24 hours Purdue went from being in a great position for Omaha to out of the tournament, and it was literally a strike away from being out of that critical second inning vs. Kent State without giving up a run.
- 2010 Volleyball - Purdue wins the first set of the Elite 8 match vs. Texas 25-18 on their home floor, but falls 3-1 after setter Jaclyn Hart gets injured late in the first set. Without that injury Purdue likely reaches a Final Four in Volleyball and maybe wins a title.
- 2007 Women's Soccer - Purdue lost only twice in the regular season and was ranked as high as fourth after beating No. 1 Portland. An 8-1-1 finish in the Big Ten caused them to lose the conference by a half game, but Purdue was 20-2-3 going into an NCAA second round match against an Indiana team it had beaten 7-0 just weeks earlier. After two scoreless halves and two scoreless overtime periods Purdue's national title shot fell on penalty kicks.
So what is the deal? Is Purdue cursed? Do we just not have it? Is it collective sports karma from Boilermaker fans that now have us fearing the worst and projecting it onto the field to cause yet another kick in the gonads? I just listed where five of Purdue's 18 sports could have had a major breakthrough nationally in their respective sports in just the last six years only to suffer a cruel loss each time. This doesn't even include the two sports (Women's basketball and women's golf) where Purdue has actually gotten it done, or David Boudia who ruled NCAA diving no other.
Also, Purdue has yet to really recover in each of the five since, with women's volleyball still at least maintaining roughly the same level. The other four have fallen drastically since those heights.
As a lover of all things Purdue I want this all to change. I want Purdue to have the joy of something like the 2012 baseball season accompanied with reaching it to Omaha for national respect like Indiana has earned this year as opposed to being a cute one-season story that falls short when it matters most. I am desperate for something, anything! Give me a BCS bowl berth! Give me a Final Four! Give Me a trip to the College World Series!
I have no idea how to make it happen, however.