We can all dream, can't we? The reason we dream is that maybe, one day the stars will align for our perpetually cursed Boilers and a national title will be delivered. Football was on its way, shockingly, before The Fumble in 2004. Basketball has come much closer, reaching the championship game in 1969, the semifinals in 1980, and holding a No. 1 seed in 1988, 1994, and 1996. We are still waiting though, and hoping.
The impetus behind this post was sent in by reader Dave St. Claire and the question is simple: Would you prefer a Purdue national title in football or basketball?
Even though it has not happened yet we have many advantages simply by being in the Big Ten, That means a favorable basketball season will lead to a good seed in March, while a Big Ten football championship means we're going to be in the discussion for the college football playoff. Most schools do not have those advantages.
So what would you, the reader, prefer? Do you want a football title or a basketball title?
The case for football
Right now it is a much longer shot, but college football is second in the national consciousness to only pro football. College football is the driving force behind all of college athletics and the reason we cash 8 figure checks every season from the Big Ten. If a miracle were to happen and Purdue were to win a college football national title it would provide instant credibility for the school athletically and also mean a HUGE monetary windfall. Think of it this way:
- More money from selling out Ross-Ade instead of playing in front of 30,000 people.
- More money from marketing and apparel sales.
- More money by simply playing in the playoff games.
- More money from the Big Ten when they negotiate their next TV deal for having another "national" program.
Winning the national title would basically be a license to print money in West Lafayette, right down to the inevitable book I would write detailing the season. From a fan's perspective it might finally put an end to the Purdon't and Spoilermaker labels. Instead of being a joke we would garner some respect league-wide.
Why it won't happen
You mean aside from being ridiculously, laughably far from the playoff right now? Honestly, it would take a HUGE leap or an insane amount of luck to get anywhere close to the playoff right now. MAYBE you could talk me into a wild scenario where Purdue wins the Big Ten West on tiebreakers by going 5-3 in the Big Ten this year with a loss to Michigan State and everyone else mired in mediocrity. Are we really going to beat Ohio State in Indy, or somehow make the playoff and win two games against the nation's best?
Purdue is years away from even being in the playoff discussion, if it ever gets there. Even the best Drew Brees team was still 8-3 in the regular season, and Tiller's best team was 9-3 in 2003. We would suddenly have to reach a level we have not been at since the 60's with Jack Mollenkopf.
The Case for Basketball
Indiana is a basketball made state and we share it with one of the strongest historical programs in the country. They are our bitter rival and even though the lone difference between the two programs is their five banners (and really, it is) we are constantly reminded that the score when it matters most if 5-0. Honestly, I want one title before I die just to shut them up (and even then, I know they would still say we had four to go).
At least in basketball we're closer, and with 68 teams making the tournament every season as opposed to four it is "easier" to win it all in basketball. Connecticut in 2011 and 2014 showed that you only need to make the tournament and get hot at the right time to win a national title. For whatever reason Purdue has had horrible luck in March, but often it seems we peak about a month too early.
Winning a basketball national title carries a bit of national respect, but nowhere close to football. It feels like a basketball national title for most Purdue fans would be more personal because of the decades of strife we have gotten from Indiana fans.
Why it won't happen
Are we cursed? I used to not think so, but I watched Purdue choke against Kansas State in 1988. I watched Big Dog play hurt against Duke in 1994. I watched the 1996 team nearly become the first 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed. I watched Stanford beat us in 1998 and Wisconsin in 2000. I saw Robbie's knee go out in 2010 and the team go from humming on all cylinders in beating Ohio State to falling completely apart a few weeks later against VCU in 2011.
At this point we all have PTSD as Purdue basketball fans. We all wait for us to find the banana peel. We even saw it this year, up 7 against Cincinnati with 45 seconds left. Yeah, we were likely losing the next game to Kentucky, but even then it felt like the collective bad vibes affected the end of that game and led to the Vince Edwards turnover and missed free throws before Cincy tied it at the buzzer.
It feels like Purdue basketball is always fighting the weight of history, and when something good happens it feels like it is just setting up another nut punch. Still, we are far, far closer to winning a National Championship in men's basketball because we make the tournament almost every year and at least have a shot. That chance should be better than most years in the coming season, too.
Basketball. I was born and raised in Indiana and basketball is in my blood. I live and die games and always have. Purdue winning a basketball national title would be only slightly below by wedding day and the birth of my son in terms of joyful events.