I know the title alone might get me shot in some circles of Purdue fans but I think it’s only fair that someone go to bat for Morgan Burke. I can’t claim to personally know the man that well. I worked in the athletic department for my two years of graduate work and had a handful of conversation at most with the guy but I always came away impressed (also if you’ve ever heard the guy cheering at a game you know he’s a true Purdue fan). I don’t agree with every decision he’s made but if you read the blogs and listen to conversations with other fans you’d think that Burke had made out with and stolen their girlfriend while kicking them in the crotch and wearing an IU sweatshirt. There’s very little reason for the vitriol spewed at the man. Maybe it’s just easier to remember and point out the bad things than to look at the positive. It’s easier to say someone sucks and not give a reason than to counter that claim with facts and well reasoned opinions. I’d like to take a look at some of the pros and cons of Morgan Burke’s tenure at Purdue University. I’ll go negative first.
Morgan Burke, and by extension all of Purdue Athletics, is not the best at PR. When the Spring Game was cancelled this year it was more or less a thanks for coming now get out of here. There was no gentle pat on the head to thank the fans for coming. Just a sorry about the weather, bye. Then there’s the constant attack of bloggers as guys who live in their basements and aren’t productive members of society. Through the sports information department a true fan and good blogger for the Boilermakers at Hammer and Rails was briefly denied any access to Purdue sports through official channels. Who knows what T-Mill had to sign over in his secret meeting with Tom Schott but it couldn’t have been pretty. Take a look at the recent article concerning Purdue start times and lights. Morgan seems to contradict himself as Boiled Sports points out saying that he doesn’t control start times but he lobbied for and got the afternoon start for the Michigan game. All of this goes along with the parenting tone and the daddy knows best sort of tone that Purdue sometimes takes with its fans.
In addition to the PR I think the marketing has struggled through no fault of the people in the area. I was in the Promotions and Marketing area during my time and so often people confuse what the department actually has control over. People complain about Licensing issues and it gets heaped onto Marketing which is just not the case. People complain about sponsorships and dumb promotions. A lot of that comes from Purdue Sports Properties and is dictated by the sponsors themselves. To add onto that Purdue had an Assistant Athletic Director over Marketing with little to no knowledge of the field. Then the budget cuts came and a marketing department that was already struggling to get by was expected to take a rather large cut. The last straws have come recently as rather than give money to the marketing department Purdue has hired an outside group to help out at an extremely high cost. To go along with that they are working to fill a vacancy with part time people/interns/grad assistants rather than a full time person. If you don’t staff the area don’t complain about results.
The Mackey Renovation, Ross-Ade, Aquatic Center, Schwartz Tennis Center, new soccer complex, eventual new baseball field, new practice fields for football, renovations for volleyball, and golf course renovations were all spearheaded by Morgan Burke. He’s been able to complete all of these projects (minus the delayed baseball stadium that Purdue could’ve desperately used this year to host the regional) without hurting the viability of the athletic department. Burke has gone on record as saying that the facilities improvements were something that Purdue simply had to do. They had no choice in the matter they were that far behind. Purdue may not be state of the art in all aspects but they sure are far ahead of where they were. I can hear the counterargument now though, “Swimming, soccer, tennis? We need more investment in football!” That’s a fair point but those other student athletes sacrifice just as much to Purdue as those in football and basketball. As I’ve said on twitter and on here the Olympic sports have had a great few years recently. Purdue baseball winning the B1G regular season and tourney titles, volleyball is consistently in the tournament and getting to Sweet 16s, women’s golf is a power and recent NCAA Champ, women’s tennis just won the B1G, and these are important to the overall image of Purdue Athletics. The next item on the agenda will be to improve the softball facility, which is pathetic from an amenities standpoint including no legitimate bathrooms, and then to head back to football and work on the south endzone and other loose ends. Football is what drives the department and can’t be forgotten but at the same time you can’t sacrifice everything else for the sake of football.
Morgan Burke was able to find, evaluate, and hire Coach Shondell (volleyball), Matt Painter, Coach Klatte (soccer), Danny Hope (jury still out), Sharon Versyp, Doug Schreiber (baseball), Devin Brouse (women’s golf), and Kim Maher (softball) who have all either won conference crowns or have dramatically improved their respective teams from where they were when they took over. That’s an incredible run of success with hiring decisions. While not every choice is a winner COUGH Jack Warner COUGH Morgan makes a good choice more often than not. As someone who deals with hiring issues on a daily basis let me tell you it’s by no means the easiest thing to do. I know I personally wasn’t excited about the hire of Matt Painter because I didn’t know what he’d done and he wasn’t a big name at the time. Needless to say I was wrong. It’s that type of forward thinking approach that has made Morgan successful.
Probably his biggest accomplishment, and one that is touted time and time again, is the department’s ability to operate with no money coming from the state or from a student fee. Much like Morgan I consider this a point of pride for Purdue athletics. They are completely self-sustaining. It’s something that, according to this article, only 8 D1 universities can say. The athletic department is a business and should be run like one. Unfortunately that means making some tough decisions, like losing Rick Ray as a basketball assistant because Purdue couldn’t afford him, but Purdue was able to keep Matt Painter in the fold prior to last season because of tough decisions and money shifting. With the way football attendance is now and with the stadium capacity at just 62,500 compared with 100,000+ at Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State Burke sometimes has to find ways to get creative with the money and I respect him for holding everything together during difficult financial times due to both the economy and poor football attendance.
Morgan Burke is by no means a perfect athletic director. He’s been able to focus on facilities, improving the grades and overall life of student athletes by also working with Drew Brees on the new Drew and Brittany Brees Student-Athlete Academic Center. This is one of the overlooked aspect of his job. People assume his job is to simply win championships and sell tickets. Sure that’s true in one respect but he’s also responsible to help these young men and women through their college careers. As the recent scandal at Penn State has shown leadership at the top is very important. Morgan carries himself with integrity and expects those around him to do the same. I’m glad to have a man like Morgan Burke leading Purdue Athletics even if we don’t always agree.