It is an ugly truth that (at least until Rutgers joins) Purdue has the worst athletic department in the Big Ten. It sponsors the fewest sports, has the fewest national titles, and even as a charter member of the conference has fewer league titles than a school that hasn't competed for 67 years. Combine that with a maddening tendency to "always find the banana peel" as our friends at Boiled Sports say, it is no wonder we are fiercely loyal as Boilermakers.
On Tuesday I pointed out some of the brief moments where each sport shined, but today I ask a simple question: How can things be fixed?
Well, I gave this some though last night and came up with 12 rough ideas. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.
Improved Football Recruiting - This is harder than it looks, but with so much money being tied into football success improved recruiting is a good step in the right direction. I have written many times about "the curse of the four stars", but it goes farther than that. Purdue consistently ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten and has most of its success when guys like Drew Brees or Dustin Keller come from nowhere. That's not the best way to build a program. When the few four-star players we do get don't work out it is even worse.
When Indiana can out-recruit us in football (and they did by somehow getting five four-star commitments in the 2013 class) it is an embarrassment. Since Rivals has been doing ranking Purdue has never had five four-star commitments in one class and has only had one with as many as three. This is the team that is the worst BCS program historically and they have an easier time getting talent.
Improved recruiting leads to improved results. Improved results lead to more butts in the seats at Ross-Ade Stadium. There is only one place on campus where you can have 60,000+ paying customers in one place at one time, and it can be done seven times per year. Get those numbers up there and suddenly a river of money to fund so many other things.
Lights at Ross-Ade Stadium - This is my personal crusade and with the news that Ohio State is adding lights to Ohio Stadium Purdue one of only five BCS conference teams without permanent lights. Four reside in the Big Ten, but in recent years Michigan and Ohio State have made the jump, while Minnesota added them in their new stadium and Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland already have them. Only Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Purdue will soon lack them, and Iowa requires less of an upgrade with lights already installed for practice (meaning a minor upgrade to get them to TV standards).
Michigan State and Northwestern have shown they are willing to pay for temporary lights to get the occasional BTN night game, but Morgan Burke continues to be the one dissenter. He is the most anti-night game AD in the conference, only wanting them if TV pays for the lights. Well, it is time to change that. With 10 of 14 schools already primed for night games it makes the choice for BTN and other networks easy when it comes to scheduling night games, which draw more eyes, help recruiting, and get more butts in the seats. Are they going to make the extra expense of paying for our temporary lights or will they look at the other 10 schools? they sure as hell won't pick Purdue except for one game every two years when we play Notre Dame, and even that game is threatened with the new nine-game Big Ten schedule.
I have no desire to become the Wrigley Field of the Big Ten. The Cubs finally had to cave when Major League Baseball threatened to not let them have postseason games if they did not install lights. It is quickly getting to the point where they are going to be necessary if we ever want ANY night games. Ohio State is adding them for $2 million for a much larger stadium. Surely we can do it for half that. It is a pittance when you factor in the river of BTN money and the added revenue of more people at a game or two every season. If a single night game means 10,000 more tickets sold at an average of $50 per ticket that is $500,000 right there.
A Final Four Breakthrough - We love our basketball Boilers, but we will not be considered a national program until we finally reach a Final Four. It has been 33 long years since it happened and 13 years since we even made the Elite Eight. For the amount of regular season success our program has the drought is astonishing. Part of it comes from "finding the banana peel", part of it comes from crippling injuries at the worst time. No matter what it is, the perception is there. We're not an elite program that can tell the top recruits, "Hey, come here and you can win a National Championship". We have done everything under Matt Painter except reach a Final Four, which is likely a factor in the number of times we have been runner-up to a Gary Harris-type player.
Finally Coming Through When It Matters - This is an extension of the Final Four issue above. In nearly every sport it seems like Purdue gets tantalizingly close before something goes horribly wrong. In the past 10 years I have seen it happen in football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, and baseball. It is to the point where I almost expect something to go wrong.
Nearly every sport at Purdue needs that moment where they finally get over the top, be it at the Big Ten or national level. Right now I would say Women's Golf is the only sport that has proven it can be done, as we're 14 years separated from even the women's basketball national title. For the big programs like basketball and football it is making waves nationally in the postseason in terms of final fours and BCS bowls. For smaller programs like tennis and track it is merely being competitive in the Big Ten and winning the conference.
A Pro Success Story, Preferably The NBA - Yes, we have Drew Brees as a paragon of virtue in the NFL, but it won't be long before he retires. We have a few players in the NBA, but no dominant ones. You could argue that Brees is athletically the only household name in America that is a Boiler.
Having a player go to the NBA and dominate would be huge for the basketball program. Having another great QB to replace Brees would be big for the Cradle of Quarterbacks and the football program. Right now the closest to Brees is Patriot-killer Bernard Pollard.
More NFL Alums Giving Back - As you know, my wife went to The U. One of the key aspects of that football program is the U Family, where football alums view it as their responsibility to return to campus and teach those that came after them about the program and the family. I don't feel like Purdue has that. Sure, we have a few guys here and there, but it is nowhere near what a program like Miami has. Sure, part of it comes from practically having an All-Star team in terms of NFL talent, but I feel like this replicated on a smaller scale would have a positive effect. It's almost like the Purdue players in the NFL are a disjointed force rather than unified group.
Prolonged In-State Dominance - This kind of goes in-hand with the recruiting issue. In the two biggest sports of Men's basketball and football we're not even the top program in our own state. It is Indiana in basketball (though Butler has done far more nationally of late and is growing) and Notre Dame in football, with Purdue far back in each. Purdue was briefly on top in basketball, but missed its window to stay on top with the Baby Boilers.
At this point Purdue needs a dramatic change of perception by making a lengthy run against our top rivals. We need to win something like 10 of 12 against Indiana in basketball and 8 of 12 in football. In basketball a couple Final Fours and a title or two would greatly help as well. I hate the Five Banners taunt as much as anyone, but mostly because it is true and I desperately want to win one of our own. That's the only way things will change.
More Top In-state Talent In All Sports - Purdue volleyball's connection through Dave Shondell have led to Purdue mining the fertile ground of Delaware County, which is strangely a youth volleyball Mecca, but so many other great players get away. A baseball player by the name of Nolan Sanburn from my home town, 45 minutes from campus, was selected in the second round of last year's MLB Draft. Instead of considering Purdue he headed to Arkansas. Lance Lynn of the St. Louis Cardinals played in high school at Brownsburg but went to Mississippi for college. In all sports we have to keep these kids home.
Breakthrough In Volleyball - This seems like the next sport that is the closest to having a national breakthrough. Coach Shondell has proven that his teams can compete in the brutal Big Ten and reach the second weekend of the NCAAs. They need to take the next step. I know it is in an "Olympic" sport, but they are our best option at the moment for a program looking to take said next step by winning a Big Ten title or two and reaching a volleyball Final Four.
Tap Into Famous Athletic Alums - David Boudia won a gold medal last summer and got his own TV show this year. Purdue needs to exploit that. Get a sponsorship or at least a Purdue Diving polo on him! Again, Brees is our best representative out there, but guys like Boudia, Maria Hernandez in golf, Katie Douglas in the WNBA, and Carl Landry in the NBA can all be great ambassadors.
Win A Baseball Regional - Last season the baseball program finally proved it can win the Big Ten. This season is opened a top-notch facility and a conference rival reached the College World Series for the first time in 29 years. ESPN also broadcast every single game of the baseball tournament for the first time ever. With bigger crowds this season at Alexander Field, the Big Ten Network for in-season games, and the growing popularity of college baseball this is a fantastic opportunity to make some more noise. Make this season's 17-34 record the fluke, not the 2012 45-14 record.
Adding Sports - Part of the reason Purdue runs such a tight ship budget-wise comes from having the fewest varsity sports in the Big Ten. We sponsor only 18, while most of the rest of the conference have at least 23. Purdue and Northwestern are the only two with less than 21.
I recognize that title IX and budgetary issues can get in the way here, but with increased football revenue a lot more can happen. Raising the average crowd at Ross-Ade Stadium by 10,000 per game should be the goal that the program and athletic department strives for. At $50 per ticket on average that is an additional $3.5 million in revenue each year. Suddenly, things look a lot better with the budget.
There is opportunity to add teams too. I have a guest post coming up with the coach of the club lacrosse team that will discuss the possibility of men's and women's lacrosse becoming varsity sports since the Big ten will now have a conference there. We already have a soccer field, so a men's soccer program would require no additional facilities. Big Ten hockey is on the horizon, though this would obviously cost a ton of money and would need a very generous donor like Penn State had to start their program.
I did not mean to insult our great University when I started this series, but honestly, it makes me angry when I see that Purdue is one of just five schools (along with Illinois, Minnesota, Northwesterm, and Wisconsin) that has been a member of the Big Ten in every year of its history and we have such a poor historical record. Big Ten championships should be the baseline goal for our programs, not the unachievable standard it is for things like cros country, track, and men's tennis right now. I am tired of being belittled for our basketball program's spectacular failure in March. I am tired of freaking Pizza Bowls. I am tired of a gut punch when Purdue hosts something like a baseball regional and the best season ever is washed away in less than 24 hours.
Something needs to change. I hope it does before I die.