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The Matt Painter To Missouri Saga: Does Purdue Have A Loser's Mentality?

I was amazed to see the Painter article from last night reach over 300 comments. That's astounding to me, but it tells me that Purdue fans are desperate for a winner. We're like most normal fans in that we want to see our teams, especially in football and men's basketball, succeed. It is frustrating to see programs like George Mason, Butler, and Virginia Commonwealth reach a Final Four with limited resources while we have several advantages, yet we cannot break through after 31 years. Combined with the fact that our main football rival is a traditional power (that reminds us constantly) and our main basketball rival is a former power (that reminds us constantly) it is natural that many of you fans are wondering about the mentality of the school itself this morning.

I am wondering myself. I looked at some numbers this morning and our perceived advantages are really over smaller programs. When it comes to the Big Ten, we're at a distinct disadvantage. First, let's look at the number of sports that each school sponsors at the varsity, intercollegiate level. I will include Nebraska as well, since they can now be considered a conference member for the major sports.

Big Ten Schools and # of sports offered:

Ohio State          35

Penn State          29 (not including men's and women's ice hockey, soon to be added)

Michigan State 25

Michigan             25

Indiana                 24

Iowa                      24

Minnesota          23

Wisconsin           23

Illinois                  21 (a candidate to add hockey with the new Big Ten Hockey Conference)

Nebraska             21

Northwestern   19

Purdue                 18

This is our first glaring number. Purdue officially sponsors the fewest varsity teams in the Big Ten. This was after women's softball and women's soccer were added during my time on campus (1998-2002). Notably, we lack a men's soccer program, but so do Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa. One reason I have heard for our lack of a program is that we don't want to lose to Indiana, a traditional power in the sport, every year. Still, this didn't stop Oregon from reviving its baseball program when rival Oregon State won consecutive National Championships.

What this factor points out is a lack of money. The secondary sports take money to run. Oregon was able to start a baseball program because They have a ton of NIKE money pouring in. In the south, baseball is a revenue producing sport, but not in the Midwest with less than 20 home games per year. We are like many athletic programs in that men's basketball and football earn the money for the rest of the sports. You're not going to see sports added as long as we're averaging less than 50,000 people per game in Ross-Ade Stadium. Occasionally, women's basketball can be a break-even sport because of its history, but that is the only one that comes even close.

Now, let's look at how our teams stand up to Big Ten competition.

Total Number of Big Ten Championships as of spring 2009:

Michigan             347

Illinois                 228

Ohio State          185

Wisconsin           180

Indiana                 162

Minnesota          154

Iowa                      104

Michigan State 81

Northwestern   69

Purdue                 67

Penn State          50

Nebraska             0 (obviously)

This part bothers me quite a bit. Penn State has been in the conference for only 20 years, yet they have nearly caught us in championships despite the fact we have been in the Big Ten for over 110 years. What's worse, the University of Chicago, which was a member from 1890-1947, still officially has more championships in conference play than us with 73. They also sponsored more sports at the time they left.

Almost 1/3 of our conference championships have come in men's basketball (21 at the time of this list). Seven more have come in women's basketball, and eight in football. 12 have come in men's golf, but none since 1981. Many of our sports have a lengthy drought since their last conference championship, including baseball (102 years), men's cross country (68 years), wrestling (57 years), women's cross country (31 years), Volleyball (26 years).

It gets worse when we look at a national perspective.

Total Number of NCAA Championships by school as of May 2010:

Penn State          38

Michigan             33

Wisconsin           27

Iowa                      25

Indiana                 23

Nebraska             23

Ohio State          21

Michigan State 19

Illinois                  17

Minnesota          15

Northwestern   6

Purdue                 4

Notably, this does not including football national championships, since there is no official NCAA Division I-A football national champion recognized. This would actually give us two more as the Parke-Davis poll awarded us a title in 1931 and four different polls gave us a title in 1943.

Our four National championships, as recognized by the NCAA, are Men's Golf (1961), women's basketball (1999), women's golf (2010), and I think we won a pistol shooting title in the 60's. It has been 50 years since we won a men's national title in anything. The football program hasn't been in the discussion for a National title in over 40 years (unless you count The Fumble). Men's basketball hasn't reached a Final Four in 31 years. Baseball has been to one NCAA Tournament, and that was 24 years ago.

To me, this is a very pathetic track record for a school that has been a charter member of the oldest conference in the country. We struggle to win conference championships, and we are rarely in the discussion for national hardware. David Boudia has more individual championships in three years (six) than the rest of the school in over 100 years.

What are the reasons for this? Is there a loser's, mediocre mentality within the athletic department? Reader BoilersFan had a great perspective on this:

I think of the NCAA tournament like a poker game. Ypu've got 3 types of players at the table: big stack, little stack, and everyone else. The Duke's, Carolinas, Kansas' of the world are your big stacks. They have so many chips that they can toy with the competition for a while before eventually out betting them. Purdue would fall into the everyone else category. We've got enough chips to sit at the table and think we have a chance, but not enough chips to compete with the big boys. We play conservative waiting for the big hand but sometimes it never comes. Butler, VCU, George Mason are the little stacks. They play loose and aggressive knowing they only have a couple of hands to get an advantage and when they get the big hand they go all in. I guess what I am trying to say is that these teams play as if they have nothing to lose. If Butler or VCU lost in the first round I doubt if anyone, including their fans, would have been dissapointed. So they have fun and embrace the moment. Purdue plays tight because they have all these expectations heaped upon their shoulders. Playing loose doesn't always equate to success but sometimes it works.

He has a very valid point. I like watching Butler play basketball. I have been a fan of them (though not at the level of Purdue) since 1997. I am a sucker for the mystique of Hinkle Fieldhouse. I've been to at least one game there each of the last four seasons. They play solid, fundamentally sound basketball and absolutely maximize the talent they have by forming a team greater than the sum of its parts. They are very similar to us, only with less resources and fewer stars. They seem to maximize their talent even more.

We will always have an advantage on them in terms of resources. No matter what Brad Stevens says, there will always be larger programs with bigger alumni bases trying to back a dumptruck full of cash up to his driveway to lure him away. He may very well be happy with what he makes there. It is more than enough to take care of his family and he knows he will have job security for as long as he wants to work, so why would he want to leave? Why would he go somewhere where he would suffer more scrutiny for not having success with more resources when he can stay where he is at, continue to have success, and become a legend?

That is kind of what we are hoping with Painter. He has more resources. Purdue has the sixth highest current enrollment in the Big Ten, so the alumni base is there. The Mackey Project will soon be done to give us top notch facilities. It is clear that six years in Painter is already beloved because he has accomplished what, by Purdue's low standards, are great feats. He has won a conference championship, he has reached two Sweet 16's, and we have received a top 5 ranking during the regular season, making us a threat for the Final Four. Sadly, for the last 30 years, that is as good as it gets.

So why would he leave? Why would he want to make what is a lateral move at best for a cash grab? That would be a lot like Brad Stevens leaving Butler. At Missouri, the Specter of Expectations will be there from day one. Some people have talked about Purdue going after Stevens. The same would be true for him. If he did come to Purdue people would question why he couldn't reach a Final Four with a "better" program within five years if he did it at Butler. He's already leading the top basketball program in the state at the moment, while Painter is leading the #2 program.

This is only speculation, but maybe Painter sees the mentality of the athletic department better than any of us. He is, after all, a competitor. He is a former player that came close to playing on a Final Four team. He wants to succeed at the highest levels, but he knows Purdue's history better than most. If he feels that he can have more success elsewhere, he may bolt.

As I said yesterday, we don't know what is going on in his mind. We want to think that loyalty lies close to home and, like Stevens, he wants to stay and become a legend at the program that gave him his start. I feel like this article is ending with the same "wait and see" attitude of last night, but I can't say I am confident about the long-term attitude of our athletic department based on our history. It is not a question of resources or facilities, but of the attitude of the school itself.