Purdue finds itself in a precarious football position, as it always has. The transfer portal intensifies this challenge. It’s no secret that Purdue has often been perceived as the underdog, striving to compete with larger football programs nationwide but consistently facing setbacks. These setbacks include a history of poor coaching hires post-successful eras, insufficient support from the athletic department, presidents with skewed views of athletics hindering academic achievement, and a fanbase seemingly disinterested in Ross-Ade Stadium’s grass.
While these hindrances once held Purdue back, recent developments, such as the Kozuch Performance Center, a massive video board, and the ongoing Ross-Ade Renovation, signaled a newfound commitment to football under Jeff Brohm. However, sustaining this improvement requires support from both the athletic director (AD) and the university president. Fortunately, Mike Bobinski and President Mung Chiang are aligned in recognizing the benefits of a nationally relevant football program. Yet, in the era of transfers and Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL), Purdue faces unexpected challenges.
Purdue appears to be in a challenging spot in the evolving landscape of major college football, functioning as a middleman—a talent developer for top-tier programs with the financial resources to revamp their rosters annually. Despite being good enough to produce legitimate talent in the Big Ten, Purdue risks being viewed as a place where blue-blood programs can poach players, diminishing its ability to build a consistently strong roster.
Recent developments, such as the U.S. District Judge’s ruling allowing unlimited transfers, highlight the changing dynamics in college football. This has already affected Purdue, with highly regarded cornerback Braxton Myers departing, emphasizing the potential for increased player movement. The allure of substantial financial rewards through NIL deals could further contribute to this trend, making it challenging for a program like Purdue to retain top talent.
Purdue’s disadvantages extend beyond the football field. The school’s location lacks the advantages of major metropolitan areas, and restrictions on using the campus airport put the program at a significant recruiting disadvantage. This becomes especially glaring in the context of the NIL landscape, where other programs have more resources at their disposal.
To navigate these challenges, Purdue must rely on alumni and fans contributing to the Boilermaker Alliance—a Purdue NIL collective. However, competing with major spenders like Texas A&M or Tennessee seems unlikely, and achieving the financial support of traditional powerhouses like Ohio State, Michigan, or Alabama is a daunting task. Purdue’s best chance lies in establishing itself solidly in the middle tier, bridging the gap between big spenders and the rest of the field.
To secure a more promising future, Purdue must consider a significant shift in philosophy by aligning the athletic department more closely with the university. The current self-supported model, while a point of pride, may limit Purdue’s ability to compete in the rapidly changing landscape of college athletics. As the university grows economically, a reevaluation of the relationship between the athletic department and the university becomes imperative to ensure sustained competitiveness in college sports. The University needs to bring the Athletic Department, in the most basic of terms, under its umbrella financially speaking, to relieve the pressure on the JPC of providing all funding for scholarships and other expenses.
With that kind of move, it would allow more donations to flow into Purdue’s NIL representatives with the Boilermaker Alliance and give them more opportunities to continue to attract top-level talent who are looking to step into major college football (like Corey Stewart from Ball State) or find a better fit with a new opportunity (like former 5-star CB Nyland Green from Georgia). It would also give Purdue more chances to retain the top flight talent on a year to year basis, such as Nic Scourton. (I get it that Purdue likely will never be able to compete with the A&M’s or the Oklahoma’s but the disparity could be closed to a more reasonable level). That is the sweet spot where Purdue Football needs to be operating moving forward.
If not, Purdue could quickly find itself in a similar situation that Washington State and Oregon State currently find themselves. Although getting removed from the entire Big Ten would be incredibly unlikely, the landscape of college football is likely to change again in the near future. Would that future likely mean less affiliation with traditional conferences and more like a professional model? I think the proverbial train has already left the station for that destination. The question is really going to be: ‘What is Purdue doing to make sure they don’t get thrown off along the way?