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It Is Time For Purdue To Leave The Big Ten

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It's bold, but Purdue has the worst athletic department in the Big Ten with no desire to compete. Why should it stay then, other than money?

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

While going through the Tweets I favorited on Saturday for the Sunday "In Tweets" page I found one that was very disturbing:

To me, this was the last straw. Over the past two seasons we have seen the school's top two athletic programs hit a nadir that has not been seen in some time. Purdue is at the bottom of the conference in attendance in football, the good feelings that the Baby Boilers made for the basketball program is long gone, and in general Purdue is a national laughingstock when it comes to sports.

No fans I talk to are happy about where the school is. No one wants to see the Boilers get their heads kicked in week-in and week out. Things feel like they are reaching a tipping point, and the point above about President Daniels is quite telling.

That's why it might be time to just leave the Big Ten altogether.

Yes, this is a bold statement that is not going to be popular, but there is little point in staying in the conference that we helped create over a century ago when there is no commitment to actually competing in it. If you think we're actually competing, consider the facts:

  • Purdue has the fewest NCAA Championships of any Big Ten program, save Rutgers, who has been a member of the conference all of two months. They joined to raise their athletic profile. Purdue has been a member for over a century.
  • Purdue only has more all-time Big Ten championships in all sports than the following schools: Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland. That's it. That is the list. Purdue has fewer conference championships across all sports (71) than Penn State, who has been in the conference far less time. We're even two short of the number of total conference championships won by the University of Chicago, which has not competed in the Big Ten in almost 70 years.
  • Purdue has not won an NCAA championship in a men's sport since 1961.
  • Purdue is somehow spending $135,301 per student athlete each season, which trails only Ohio State, Illinois, and Iowa.

And this is all for what? To celebrate Dani Bunch as the female athlete of the year in the conference? To say "Hey, we had David Boudia!" Something is severely wrong if Purdue is spending that amount in a conference like the Big Ten and getting such paltry results in the "revenue" sports. What's wrong is at the top.

The entire athletic department, and probably even above the athletic department, has an attitude of complacency and there is absolutely zero desire for improvement from what I have seen. I have credited Morgan Burke for spending the money necessary to make the facility improvements that might, might put Purdue on par with the rest of the conference, but what really stands out?

  • The Mackey renovation was nine figures and added a practice facility, fancy locker rooms, and expensive seating that is rarely used. Basically, we have what the rest of the conference has now.
  • The Ross-Ade renovations started in 2001. That was 13 years ago, with only the new Morgantown area added this season as anything major. While the Pavillion is excellent, there is absolutely nothing else special about the place that makes it stand out compared to the rest of the league. Also, the anti-lights stance by Burke might have made sense in 2004 or even 2009. It is 2014, and we're in danger of further falling behind the rest of college football because of it. It is only a matter of time before it is practically going to be required.
  • Other additions like the aquatics center, softball and baseball fields, and soccer complex are great, but it is not like Purdue has taken off and dominated those sports.
  • Purdue sponsors the fewest sports in the Big Ten at 18, so facility improvement can only do so much. Eventually you run out of facilities to improve.

As a member of the Big Ten you either have to be competing, innovating, or you're going to get left behind. Right now, Purdue is getting left behind by everyone. The attitude of complacency continues because we're supposed to be satisfied that the athletic department is running in the black. Well, that's great, except the only reason we're running in the black is because the Big Ten hands us an eight figure check courtesy of BTN and ESPN every year. Where, then, is the incentive to improve?

How complacent is Purdue? Check this out:

Purdue athletics is considered an auxiliary enterprise. It is similar to Purdue housing and food services in that it produces it's own revenue but is expected to pay money for services provided by Purdue University. Some of these things includes payroll, central services and utilities. For these things, Purdue sends approximately $3.4 million a year to the general university fund.

This is ABSOLUTELY RE-FREAKING-DICULOUS and enrages me. Basically, the school handicaps the athletic department by making it pay $3.4 million per year for stuff that other schools easily cover. By the way, Purdue has a $2.182 billion (yes, with a B) endowment. They are asking for a tenth of a percent of that endowment. I hardly think the school is going to go broke and fold up if it has to support the athletic program that much.

Oh, and that's before we get into the math where a winning football team means more butts in the seats and more revenue. Right now Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium seats 57,236 people after the removal of the south bleachers. We're averaging 35,000 per home game. For ease of rounding, say a winning team could fill the other 22,000 empty seats for all seven home games. Shoot, I'll even give you 15,000 more per game to get it to 50,000, just so I am not greedy. That's what a decent, competitive, solid bowl team in the Big Ten should be averaging. At 15,000 more people per game, times $40 per seat (the rough ticket price), times seven home dates, that's $4.2 million in additional revenue.

Yes, Purdue University charges its athletic department less money than it would earn back if it simply invested that $3.4 million back into athletics, was able to improve the football program and other programs, and get the attendance to a meager 50,000 per game. If that is not an attitude of complacency and no desire to win, I don't know what is.

So, if Purdue is going to treat its athletic programs like they are small time it is time to leave the Big Ten, which is most definitely big time, and go to another conference where the small time nature at least leaves us with a more level playing field. In 2012 Purdue earned $70.6 million in athletic revenue and spent $68 million. Only Rutgers and Maryland earned less, while only Rutgers spent less. It is no coincidence, then that Rutgers is the only athletic program that is less respected nationally than Purdue, but for how long?

It doesn't take a ton of money to at least compete, either. Overall, Indiana barely earns and spends more than Purdue, but is in a far better place across the board (and the Hoosiers sponsor seven more teams to boot!). Across the board Purdue is 12th out of the 14 Big Ten programs in terms of average finish in the Director's Cup rankings, which is the overall sports performance of athletic departments. It averages 43rd nationally, but is only ahead of Iowa and Rutgers in the Big Ten.  At least Iowa has its wrestling program giving it a national face. Purdue has... ?

It's not going to get any better as long as the current leadership is in place. I recognize it is very hard to sell Purdue. I recognize that dramatic improvement won't come by simply throwing money around, but something has to change. Burke has been in charge for over 20 years and the culture there today is clearly not one that promotes an attitude of winning. I am tired of seeing our student-athletes getting their heads kicked in across the entire conference with only the occasional Boudia or Bunch to break the monotony. There are no easy answers here at all, but I am one of many people that is simply tired of seeing little to no results while getting told "We're in the black!". That only gets an athletic director promoted during the same year Purdue narrowly avoided the trifecta of finishing dead last in football, basketball, and baseball.

Leaving the Big Ten is never going to happen, mostly because we would be ridiculously stupid to leave the gravy train and those eight figure checks that we get every year. Until we get new leadership at the top that is willing to change the entire culture (save someone like Dave Shondell, who is one of the precious few assets in the athletic department right now) we might as well be a glorified MAC program.