Editor's note: This is the fourth in a four-part series of stories with Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke.
WEST LAFAYETTE -- The college sports landscape is changing fast. Conferences are expanding, pay-for-play prospects are approaching (at least with the concept of paying the full cost of scholarships), and there is talk of the five major conferences -- the Big Ten, the SEC, the ACC, the Pac-12 and the Big 12 -- separating to form their own sub division in the NCAA.
It all keeps athletic directors such as Purdue's Morgan Burke very busy.
Burke doesn't see the national football playoff -- set to start at the end of the 2014 season with four teams -- expanding beyond that any time soon. He sees one explanation for the recent SEC dominance in football (seven straight national titles) coming from the SEC having more money devoted to the sport. That's the result of a differing athletic philosophy.
SEC schools typically have around 16 sports. Big Ten schools have at least eight more. Ohio State has 37 sports, including pistol, rifle and lacrosse. Purdue has 18. Indiana has 24.
There is concern about the lawsuit from former UCLA basketball All-America Ed O'Bannon and other former college athletes who want the NCAA to share royalties for profiting from the use of their names and images. They also want all current and future college athletes to be able to make licensing deals of their own, which could up with schools, rather than just providing scholarships, having to pay athletes to play much like what now happens in the pros.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has suggested that if that happens, the Big Ten might just drop down to Division III, where athletes don't get scholarships.
Burke talked about those issues, and more, in a recent wide-ranging interview with The News-Sentinel
A national football playoff is set to begin with four teams. Would it be better with eight?
It will stay at four. The deal goes out to 2026 or so. Look at the experience in NCAA Division I-AA playoffs. It was four teams, then eight, then 16, then 32. Look at basketball with the NCAA Tournament expansion. We don't have the discipline.
You talk about wear and tear on the players. How many games can they play? It was 10, then 11, then 12 every once in a while, then 12 permanently. Now we have a conference championship game. Then we have a bowl game. You get to a point where physically, that's enough. I'm at that point.
Look at basketball. There was a point in time where everybody was arguing to let every team in. Adding more football playoff teams will continue to be debated, but I think for the next decade or we've put it to bed.
(Football officials) have listened to the fan base. Computers shouldn't dictate who makes the playoffs. There should be a human element, and there is (a selection committee will choose the four teams). You can tweak it. They've picked up many of the things fans would like to see short of a 16-team playoff.
I think the bowl experience is very good. If you're ranked between No. 10 and No. 30 in the country, your kids can still have a meaningful end point. In basketball, if you don't get to the Final Four, it's a bad season. Football has a way to end it that's good for your alumni base.
In football, the Big Ten has fallen behind the SEC in terms of national success. Any reason for that?
You have two very different models. You have an SEC model and a Big Ten model. The SEC model, almost across the board, is sponsoring the minimum number of sports (16). I'm not being negative toward the SEC, but their strategy has been to take seven men's sports and nine women's sports. That puts them in a gender equity balance. If you are getting 80,000 to 90,000 in your stadium, what that means is you're spending an awful lot on football. You have to call it what it is. I'm not saying it's wrong.
The Big Ten model is, let's get more kids, more opportunities. We have a larger athlete base. Our grant in aid (scholarship) base is bigger. It's not that we don't spend, but football in the south is a religion. It just is. When you look at the dollars and models, they're very different.
For the Big Ten, the David Boudia story (the former Boiler won a diving gold medal in last year's Olympics), and every school has one, are excellent reasons why you do it. Two sports (football and basketball) fund everybody else.
At Purdue, we're at the low end of the sports funded. We're at 20 if you count track and field indoor and outdoor as four sports. It's one way we try to compete with Ohio State and Michigan. We don't sponsor as many sports. I can't afford them. I should have men's soccer. Purdue should have men's soccer. But to do that I'd have to add two women's sports because of gender equity. It's about $1 million a year, recurring. I don't have that right now, particularly when scholarship dollars have doubled in the last last seven years. So that money is growing at a much faster rate than a lot of our revenue streams.
Having said that, the model in athletics, the compensation has gotten out of whack. The public has started to grouse about it. I don't blame them. It's like the CEO that makes all those millions of dollars. That upsets people. I can see that. I'm not sure where that ends up.
There are some things in athletics, because we're not willing to go back in, that aren't going to change. Some people measure the success of our coach in football in part by how much they're paid. I'm not sure that's the right way to measure it. There were performance metrics in (former coach Danny Hope's) contract that would have paid had they been hit.
We have so much money tied up in the alumni base supporting our programs, that it almost becomes like if they don't perceive you're investing, they won't invest. It's an interesting situation.
We have some things in our own house that don't make sense, but we also have different competing models. In particular, the SEC and Big Ten are opposite ends of the spectrum. It makes for a challenge if you're going to try to challenge for a national championship.
Everything is cyclical. Everybody thought Big Ten basketball was dead a few years ago. It's not.
From a national standpoint, what are your thoughts about paying the full cost of a scholarship, which would mean an extra $2,000 to $$3,000 per scholarship?
The miscellaneous expense allowance is designed to look at the current value of grant in aid and each university calculate the total cost of attendance. There is a gap. If you go back to the late 1960s or early 1970s, you heard the term, 'Laundry money.' That was $15 a month. Take that for 12 months and that's $180. Take that at 5 percent of 40-plus years, that's $2,000.
Having said that, the reason (NCAA) President (Mark) Emmert got some push back (mostly from mid-major schools) was not because of trying to close the gap, but, First, because it looked like it was only being done for people on full scholarships and it didn't have a very good gender balance to it. Second, if a student athlete is eligible for a Pell Grant, that would entitle that student to $5,500. I didn't have $5,500 when I was a student at Purdue. So now you'd get that, and put $2,000 more on top of it?
There were a number of us, I being one of them, who said that if a student-athlete gets a Pell Grant, they really shouldn't get that $2,000. If you're eligible for a Pell Grant, then you don't get the miscellaneous expense. You've gotten that with the Pell Grant.
If they get $4,500 in a Pell Grant, give them a thousand dollars to get them up to a Pell Grant level. If they get $3,500, by all means give them $2,000 and get them to the Pell Grant level. If you did that you could take the equivalency sports (sports such as wrestling or soccer where not everyone is on a full ride, but a percentage of a full ride), so if somebody is on 30 percent scholarship, their cost would be $600 (about 30 percent of $2,000). You could pro-rate it. I think that is a more fair and even handed way to deal with it.
How concerned are you about the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit and the potential consequences if he wins? Should athletes be paid to play?
I don't agree with Ed O'Bannon. I hope the courts realize this is just opportunistic. These kids get an education with their scholarship. That's extremely valuable in their lifetime.
With this expense allowance still in the system, it's a matter of trying to find the right balance of need. The last thing you want to see is somebody got a $5,500 Pell Grant and then $2,000 miscellaneous expense and then went and bought something (silly) with it.
Right now, the NCAA has a pot of money distributed to every school called the student opportunity fund. There is money flowing into these kids. If there is an emergency at home with a parent getting sick, we can pay for the cost to get a kid home. We have a clinical psychologist we buy three days a week of his time. We've done things with laptops and tablets for when student athletes go on the road. So there is money.
Maybe we'd be better off to just pro-rate the money and give it to the kids. I could give them $500 for clothes and how do I know that they didn't stop by Wal-Mart and buy whatever. There's a point you hope people do the right thing, but you also know human nature. There is more to the whole story. There are resources available. We provide tutors, mentors, the best medical care, sports performance assistant like personal trainers, coaches and staff. That's a lot. If they had to pay for that out of their own pockets, it would be expensive. It's not coming to them as a check, but in services.
How do you square paying the full cost of a scholarship with the fairness issue given that mid-major and low-major conference schools likely won't be able to afford it?
It's not fair. That's why they should be in favor of need base, but it would add cost to their structure if you were allowed to use the student athlete opportunity fund money. I would argue that should be a funding source for a lot of those schools. Whether that would be enough, I don't know. That's one way to help that.
Do you see a time when the major conferences would separate and form their own sub-division within the NCAA?
Would we have an implosion of Division I? I don't know. They've been arguing about it for 50 years. There's a real array of interest. If I wanted to get my Director's Cup standing up, why wouldn't I add a rifle team? We have some great ROTC students. Come on. I'm not playing that game.
Last year we were 47th out of 335 teams (in the overall sports program rankings). If you mix and adjust and score just the sports that you're in, we were 40th. That's not the greatest, but you're in the 90th percentile of all the schools. I can get it better. I could jury rig it, but I will never do it. You could pull out a couple of sports and add some others -- bowling, rifle. I can't do snow skiing.
I do think you have a wide array of interests. Just within the football bowl series, the bowl median for budgets in the 120 schools is $48 million. In the Big Ten, the median budget is $78 million and I'm at $70 million. If I'm at a disadvantage, what do you think those people are? They still beat you occasionally.
What are your thoughts on coaches, particularly basketball coaches, offering scholarships to recruits as young as eighth graders?
If I were a mid-major program I would keep encouraging these big schools to keep getting these early commitments because you're wrong as much as you're right. You try to predict how good a 14- or 15-year old will be when they get to 21. Good luck. In certain sports, maybe, like swimming or track, you can do it because you have hard data (how fast they are). As far as team-based sports, even as trained an eye as coaches have, trying to extrapolate what this kid is going to be like two-three-four years down the road? You won't hit on 100 percent. You'd have never done that with (former Boiler basketball standout) Robbie Hummel.
I tell our coaches. I know you want to get early commitments, but sometimes it's better off to stay in the recruiting market a little longer and get to know the kids a little longer, and see who develops. That's why some of these mid-majors who get some of these late-blossoming kids come back and whup you.
Glenn Robinson Jr was 6-4 as a high school junior. Who would have thought he'd be 6-7 and play like he did (for Michigan as a freshman this past season)?
Your thoughts on the NCAA proposal about unlimited texting and phone calls with football recruits? Some football coaches are very upset about it.
I chaired the basketball committee on recruiting. We had (Butler coach) Brad Stevens. We looked at the whole system, not just texting or communication. We found it's a mixed bag. Most of the student recruits said if they don't want to answer the phone, they won't. They know who's calling.
We had all this cost trying to count up all these phone calls. It was kind of silly. Basketball did it (with few limits on calls and texts) for the men last year. Women's basketball will do it this year. It was introduced for football and they kind of went ballistic. The reason they went ballistic was basketball had a year to look at this thing and vet it back and forth. For football it was very short period of time. That's why we said, stop. Let us work with football. In the end they'll realize it's not that big a deal. Basketball guys will tell you it's not that big a deal.
Football has an interesting idea. There ought to be certain periods of the calendar when it's truly dead. When there is nothing. It's good for the kids. It's good for the coaches. For example, in the month of July, (football coaches) should be ought of here. There should be nothing they have to worry about as far as recruiting. I would argue that, looking at the student athletes, maybe we should be careful about December recruiting when they're in finals. I think you'll find more frequent communication earlier, but then maybe some shades (of communicating) when it's done.