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Can Purdue Compete In The Big Ten: Morgan Burke

Athletic Director Morgan Burke has presided over a period of growth for Purdue athletics, which is exactly what is needed.

Courtesy Purdue Exponent
Courtesy Purdue Exponent

This will be the final entry in this series, I promise. It has generated a lot of discussion ranging from, "Yes! I have been thinking the same thing!" to "There is no way we're the worst athletic department in the Big Ten." I expected as much. Keep in mind that I am taking an extremely long view here. Purdue has been in the Big Ten since 1896. That's almost 120 years of athletics. Yes, many sports have not been contested in the conference that long, but for most we can look at multiple decades where Purdue has struggled.

So let's concentrate on the present day, and it begins at the top. Morgan Burke is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in the Big Ten. He took the job on January 1, 1993 when Purdue was in a much different place than it is now:

  • Football was in the middle of a streak of 12 straight losing seasons.
  • Basketball was far and away the top sport on campus.
  • Women's softball and Women's soccer weren't even sports at the school yet.
  • Most of the current facilities were either not built or have undergone major renovations.

We all know about Purdue being a self-sustaining organism financially thanks to the John Purdue Club and the Rotel and Barbasol money coming from the Big Ten Network, but Burke has presided over a large number of capital improvement projects in his time:

  • Ross-Ade Stadium received a massive renovation from 2001-2003 that built the current pavilion, expanded the concourse, and improved virtually ever facet of the facility. I like to say that it is the house that Brees built because the school cashed-in big time on the run to Pasadena he made, leading to those improvements.
  • The Mackey Arena renovation extended the life of our basketball arena and gave us not only a fine practice facility, but an overall sports complex all athletes can enjoy.
  • Alexander Field is a brand new baseball facility that gives Purdue one of the finest fields in the conference and is a huge upgrade over Lambert Field.
  • The Boilermaker Aquatics Facility is nice enough to have hosted the NCAA championships and lure to Purdue a diver that won a gold medal in the Olympics.
  • Women's soccer has a new home at the Northwest Complex
  • The Boilermaker Tennis facility is incredible.
  • Softball will soon have a new home at the Northwest site.
  • Our golf facility has produced an NCAA champion and has hosted the NCAA Championships.

These are all fantastic things, as Burke has treated each sport equally. He hasn't really placed a major emphasis on one sport or another, which is something that some people view as a negative. I have talked at length about the long view and Purdue's historical struggles, but in 2011-12 a total of 14 of the 18 sports at Purdue either made it to the NCAA championships as a team or had an individual participate. That is very, very good and the most in school history. Among the other accomplishments:

  • Purdue won the 1999 women's basketball National Championship, was runner-up in 2001, and went to the Final Four in 1994.
  • Purdue won the 2010 Women's Golf National Championship.
  • Purdue won three straight men's basketball Big Ten titles from 1994-96.
  • Two new sports (softball and soccer) went from nothing to at least making the NCAA Tournament in less than 10 seasons.
  • David Boudia won six national championships in diving.
  • Purdue went to a Rose Bowl, something that was a pipe dream in 1993.

Burke's frugal nature has sometimes been a criticism against him. People lost their minds when it looks like Matt Painter was going to walk, only for Burke to come through with the money at the 11th hour. Burke tried to go the bargain coach route with Danny Hope and it backfired. This was a dangerous game, as men's basketball and football essentially pay for everything else in the athletic department.

Like I said yesterday, there is only one place where you can get 60,000+ paying customers on campus. If Danny Hope is not winning football games you're going to be lucky to get 30,000+, and that greatly affects the bottom line. Yes, we all contribute through JPC and the BTN money, but when you're losing half a million to a million dollars per game because the football team is getting drilled by the Michigans and Wisconsins of the Big Ten it has an effect on a program like ours.

Overall, I think Burke has done a good job and continues to have things pointed in the right direction. He obviously runs things very well from a business perspective and he is not the won recruiting the athletes and coaching them. He merely gives those coaches the tools they need, and the capital improvements have shown he has done that. Many of them are so new that their long-term effect is still to be determined.

My biggest problems with Burke are really the little things. As you know, I am pro-lights at Ross-Ade and it annoys me that he is so steadfast against it when it is clear that it may soon be a necessity to compare to the rest of the conference. Burke also got very lucky that coach painter returned, because he probably turns the vast majority of Purdue fans against him is Painter walked from his alma mater to another school.

Burke is a Purdue guy and a former Purdue athlete. I trust that he loves the Old Gold and Black probably more than I do. The results on the field are beginning to show that love as things are generally pointing up after decades of struggle.