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Is Purdue The Chicago Cubs Of The Big Ten?

Purdue continues to have the worst-run athletic department in the Big Ten, but it is rewarding those in charge. Something needs to change.

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Morgan Burke.

His very name draws the ire of many Purdue fans these days. He likes to champions himself as the number-cruncher that keeps Purdue athletics self-sustaining, but is that really something to be proud of when we just completed a season where both football and men's basketball, the two money-makers for the school, just finished in last place?

No, it is not, especially when in today's Big Ten it is a whole lot easier to be self-sustaining without getting any results on the field.

In a recent article in the Indianapolis Star Burke trumpeted the usual stats:

Football attendance averaged 48,953 this past season, up from 43,588 the year before. Basketball saw a boost of nearly 1,000 for its 17 home dates, to 12,738 from 11,857.

Despite the on-field struggles, Purdue's athletic department remains on solid footing, although unlike most schools it is self-supporting, receiving no student athletics fee or university funds and annually delivering about $3.5 million to the university.

There is your first problem. We have an athletic department that gives money back to the University. To me, this is ludicrous, especially in a day and age when most schools have to fund their athletic departments. We have an athletic director giving money back to the school when there are projects such as lights at Ross-Ade Stadium and the upcoming new softball facility that need funding, but he would rather beg donors than use money that is already there.

Of course, there is a reason that Burke's job very easy when it comes to being self-sustaining:

The department expects to receive about $26.4 million through Big Ten revenue sharing for the 2013-14 academic year. Burke projects an operating profit of about $6 million before debt service payments of $8.6 million resulting in an overall shortfall of $2.6 million.

Why is the athletic department running at a shortfall of $2.6 million when it gave back $3.5 million the year before? That's poor planning if you ask me.

If Purdue finished dead last in every single sport of the 18 it sponsors It would get $26.4 million for the privilege of being Big Ten fodder. That's all because Purdue is in the Big Ten, where it gets a phat check from ESPN, the BCS, and the Big Ten Network as part of the conference's revenue sharing. It is why Rutgers and Maryland jumped at the opportunity, and it is a number that will possibly grow with the addition of the Washington, DC and New York markets.

Folks, with that amount of money coming in before ticket sales, before merchandise sales, before anything else. That is a large amount of money that 75% of college programs would kill to have. The sad thing is that ol' Morgan is proud of the following:

Football attendance averaged 48,953 this past season, up from 43,588 the year before. Basketball saw a boost of nearly 1,000 for its 17 home dates, to 12,738 from 11,857.

Just under 49,000 in a 65,000 seat stadium. Yeah, Morgan. That's great. We had the best attendance of the four programs that were not bowl eligible this season, so that is something to be proud of, I guess. Purdue only had a higher average attendance than Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern, and Minnesota. In that, there are a couple of factors. First, we had a sellout night game against Notre Dame that skewed the numbers. We also hosted large crowds for Nebraska and Ohio State, something that the other four did not both get in addition to Notre Dame.

Morgan refuses to realize that butts in seats means more revenue for the entire athletic department. Say the average price of a ticket in those 16,000 empty seats per game is $60. If you find a way to sell those seats out that is an additional $6.72 million per season in revenue. How do you sell it out? Well, here are some tips:

1.       Win some damn games (hopefully in progress)

2.       Later kickoff times = more butts in seats (Insert lights rant here)

3.       Keep the marquee games on the schedule

So what does Morgan do? He continues to refuse to get lights despite the Big Ten discussing more prime time games and he somehow manages to lose the home and home series and a guaranteed sellout every two years with Notre Dame.

Say what you will about Fred Glass at Indiana, but at least he is trying. He gets bigger crowds to watch Indiana football by having night games and attracting families. he is at least trying different things and developing different ideas. Purdue continues trying the same old things with no innovation whatsoever. Morgan knows he can get by on the diehards like me, who have still renewed football season tickets even after the worst season in school history. Even Indiana has a better run football program right now because it has better perks like their sparking new weight room, better innovation with a fun offense that actually moves the football, and a better fan experience.

Still, Morgan gets to keep his job.  In fact, he got a raise and was promoted this year. He is running an athletic department that is being run like the Chicago Cubs for decades. For many years the Cubs' ownership knew it didn't need to put a winning product on the field. They could make tons of money because Wrigley Field would sell out most of the summer regardless of how much the team sucked. It was a cash cow for the owners, so why spend extra money on a competitive team? It wasn't until the 80's, when advertising and TV revenues grew exponentially, that the Cubs finally had to make some moves.

Purdue is in a similar situation. Morgan doesn't need to do anything because there is a sweet river of Rotel and Barbasol money coming in from the Big Ten. He continues to avoid lights because the Big Ten doesn't demand it and he knows he can save money by having ESPN pay for temporary ones once every two years. He won't even need to worry about that anymore since he lost the Notre Dame series. It doesn't matter if the teams do better. Purdue is going to keep getting all the money coming in from the Big Ten and It doesn't need to improve to make its budget. When Morgan is just going to give the extra money back to the school anyway why would he care if he can make more money by selling out Ross-Ade with a competitive team.

This is why Purdue is the worst athletic department in the Big Ten. It's leadership cares nothing about winning and only about balancing the books. Never mind that winning makes balancing the books easier. There might be a risk in spending some money to win. Also, never mind that the programs that do run in the red win a whole lot damn more than we do and have a lot more room to run in the red because of the revenue that winning generates. Morgan Burke has exhibited time and again he only cares about the bottom line. That was never more apparent than this year, when he was rewarded for the top two money-making programs finishing dead last in the conference.

It does not have to be this way, either. Programs like Oregon and Oklahoma State are similar in size and did not have a ton of history, like Purdue, before they emerged with nationally respected teams in multiple sports. For example, Oregon did not even have a baseball team from 1981-2008, but made the NCAA Tournament in their second season after re-starting their program.

Of course, both of these schools have major sugar-daddies like Phil Knight and T. Boone Pickens supplying things behind the scene. Oregon was willing to spend the money, gave itself world class facilities, and is now nationally ranked. Meanwhile, under Morgan's watch, he did damage to the program by delaying the construction of the new Alexander Field to the point that the school's best team in a century couldn't play at home for a key NCAA series. Just look to the south there. Purdue stumbled in building their field, had to play in Gary, and lost. Indiana took care of its team, made the College World Series, and still has momentum going this year.

Of course, it is not as easy as throwing money at the problem, but it can help a lot. I will credit Morgan for greatly improving Purdue's facilities in his tenure, but that only does so much. There needs to be better support staff, better strength and conditioning, better nutrition specialists, and better coaching. Purdue has its diamonds in the rough like Adam Soldati and Dave Shondell who make the best of the situation they are in, but for the most part Purdue is boring and does nothing to stand out from the rest of the Big Ten, let alone nationally.

Unfortunately, I do not know the solutions. You can't just walk in the door with $100 million and instantly start winning. It's not like a pro team where you can buy the top players (at least on the table). I am not an athletic director and it is not my decision to make, but it is clear that Purdue needs a change at the top because the attitude and culture of mediocrity has permeated all the way down. Right now, everything is "good enough" because it makes financial sense with the golden parachute of BTN money coming in. Sure, Morgan Burke is the Big Ten's longest tenured athletic director, but that means nothing when he still runs the department like it is 1994.

It is just frustrating as fans because we can only do so much. They ask for more money, but Purdue does not have a sugar-daddy like a Knight or a Pickens that can drop a couple hundred million. Not that it would matter anyway because winning is clearly not important to the current staff.