Saturday, March 26, 2011

The State of Purdue Sports

This was supposed to be their year. Hummel was coming off his injury, Moore and Johnson decided to not go pro and make one more run at a national title. Then, Hummel gets hurt in the first practice of the year, and despite this, Purdue has an outstanding season capped by a nice win over Ohio State, who entered the tourney as the #1 overall seed. Starting with the Iowa game at the end of the season, everything seemed to completely fall apart, and I'm not sure if anyone knows for sure why. So here we are today, Elite 8 games being played, and no Purdue. They didn't even make it to San Antonio for the Sweet 16 after giving up 94 points to a random school from Richmond, Virginia. So that begs the question for us Purdue alums, where does Purdue athletics go from here?

It was a fun ride over the past few years watching Matt Painter turn around the basketball program after the team was absolutely miserable while I was in college. Meanwhile, the football program seems to be nosediving back to the bottom of the Big Ten. This is sort of the norm at Purdue, but I went to school there from 2001-2005, which was an abnormal time. The football team was coming off their first Rose Bowl appearance in over 30 years and were still a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten, while the basketball team was getting worse each year as Gene Keady aged. The football team made it to a bowl game all 4 years I was in school, while the basketball team only made the NCAA tournament once. Generally, Ross-Ade stadium was a lively packed place to watch a game while Mackey Arena was a ghost town. Now, when watching Purdue sports on TV, its pretty much the exact opposite, so it barely even reminds me of my time in school anymore. However, I didn't go to Purdue for its sports. I went there for an education so I can get a good job.

Now that Moore and Johnson have no choice but to go pro, and Hummel will hopefully be able to return next year, you have to wonder if the window for Purdue to be a college basketball powerhouse is now closed again for a while, or if Matt Painter will be able to continue to recruit well to keep the Boilers consistently good each year. Another concerning point is I'm still not convinced how serious the Purdue athletic department is about winning. Painter has proven to be a good coach for Purdue despite the collapse this year, but there are always stories lingering around the internet about Painter's pay and how it would be very easy for another school to steal him away with more money. Painter was clearly hired to be Purdue's coach for a nice discount, considering how he was a young coach at Southern Illinois and attended Purdue. Just look to the football program to see how serious Purdue is about winning. In my opinion, they are pretty much hopeless until Hope eventually gets fired, but that doesn't mean the athletic department will actually pay for a coach that actually knows how to recruit and be a good game day coach and doesn't embarrass the school's alumni every time he opens his mouth.

But with the possible decline of the basketball program on the horizon, I ask myself where in the college sports spectrum do I want Purdue to be. In pro sports, the answer is simple. You want your team to be a championship caliber team every single year, but for college sports, I think there is a downside to being too successful at sports. Think about some of the top football programs in the country like Ohio State, USC, Miami, Florida State, Nebraska, etc. To me, it seems like schools like this are often looked down upon as educational institutions because their sports teams are too good. They are thought of as shady schools that only care about winning NCAA titles and will load their curriculum with easy classes so their athletes, seen as their top priority, will stay academically eligible. Do you really want your diploma to be from a school with a reputation (whether or not it is justified) like that? Sure, it would be fun for the 4 or 5 years you are in school watching your teams win, but is it worth being looked over for jobs because of this? This happens for other reasons than sports. For example, Arizona State is looked down upon often because it has a notorious party school reputation with a very high acceptance rate, giving them the impression that they will take just about anyone and everyone likes to party instead of go to class. I live about 10 miles from the campus, and I think this is probably more true than it is for most of the Big Ten schools, but its not like there is a constant block party going on Mill Avenue either.

Because of this, I'd like Purdue's sports teams to be mediocre to below average, maybe with an occasional 2-3 year exciting above average run thrown in. I want them to be good enough so I can be involved in a college sports conversation at work without being embarrassed, but I don't want them to be so good that it discredits my education. I also want Purdue to have intelligent, well spoken coaches that serve as good ambassadors for the school (like Painter, not like Hope) and to keep recruiting good character guys. I'm proud of Drew Brees for taking Purdue to the Rose Bowl and winning a Super Bowl. I'm even more proud of Drew Brees for being a great human being that happened to go to Purdue. I think if Purdue sticks to the good character, mediocrity angle, it will make those occasional 2-3 year above average runs that much more exciting and rewarding for its alumni.

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