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Sports Business

Daniels' hire may leave Purdue shooting blanks in arms race

June 21, 2012
KEYWORDS Sports Business

There’s been much discussion on how Gov. Mitch Daniels will affect Purdue University academics and its financial fortunes when he becomes the school’s president in January.

What hasn’t been discussed yet is how he’ll affect Purdue’s commitment to athletics. While academics and funding will be front and center on his agenda, any university president knows the school’s sports teams—chiefly football and men’s basketball—are primary weapons in its marketing arsenal.

Daniels' penchant for fiscal conservativism and budget cuts will stand in stark contrast to the current athletics arms race sweeping the NCAA. University presidents and athletic directors nationwide are hustling to hire high-priced coaches and improve or replace their schools' sports infrastructure. Purdue alums expecting the same from Daniels will be sorely disappointed.

Daniels is likely to get along well with Purdue Athletic Director Morgan Burke, a former businessman known for his conservative approach in hiring and paying coaches.

Nevertheless, you can bet Daniels will take a close look at the school’s athletics spending and insist on the department remaining self supporting. Purdue—along with IU—is one of only a handful of schools nationwide generating enough revenue to cover all of its expenses.

I’m guessing Daniels isn’t going to be in favor of replacing coaches before their contracts are up—even if their performance isn’t up to alum and fan expectations.

That’s not an issue with men’s basketball coach Matt Painter. Not only is he locked up with a long-term contract, but he’s also experiencing a good measure of success in West Lafayette. If Daniels is there long enough to have to deal with Painter’s contract, it will be interesting to see what he has to say about the $2 million to $3 million annual price tag it will take to retain a coach of Painter’s caliber.

In any event, it looks like Daniels will be there long enough to make his mark. The 63-year-old Daniels would not be subject to a rule that requires most Purdue administrators to retire at age 65. Trustees vice chairman Thomas Spurgeon said Tuesday that under university policy, newly hired people can stay in their post until they can build a $44,000 annuity. He said that typically takes seven to eight years.

For better or worse, Daniels’ hiring likely means football coach Danny Hope will be at Purdue for a while. Hope last year received a two-year contract extension through the 2016 season, and Daniels won’t be eager to eat the near $1 million annual salary that would be required if Burke fired Hope.

Hope, who is 15-21 in three seasons at Purdue, was previously an offensive line coach at the school. He returned in 2008 as associate head coach before succeeding Joe Tiller in 2009. The Purdue faithful are split on their support for Hope.

Overall, Purdue fans shouldn’t expect Daniels to escalate athletic spending dramatically despite the athletics arms race ripping through the NCAA ranks.

A fiscally conservative approach doesn’t mean Daniels and other Purdue officials won’t feel the pressure to compete. While Purdue’s athletics budget is sound, it lags many of its competitors. And the fear among the Boilermakers' faithful is that Purdue will lag even further as Daniels' term runs its course.

Last year, Purdue’s athletic department generated $66.2 million in revenue and had $59.4 in expenses. IU last year generated $71 million in revenue and spent $69 million on athletics. Big Ten behemoth Michigan generated $122.7 million and spent $111.8 million on athletics.

On a side note, it will be interesting to see what effect Daniels will have on the culture of the school and its athletic department, especially its approach with the media. Burke and his staff are one of the best and most open college athletic departments for the media to deal with. Meanwhile, Daniels has often been tight lipped and has had a testy relationship with many local media members.

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