BENNER: An open letter to Purdue University’s president-in-waiting

Dear Mitch:

Congratulations on your successful tenure as governor of the great state of Indiana.

Now the tough job begins: president at Purdue.

And why would that be more difficult than being governor? Simple. The state doesn’t have an athletics department.

Sure, the academics in Boilerville are nervous about your lack of academic credentials. And, yes, the administrative bureaucracy is worried that you will take your noted “blade” to its bloat.

But what I am eager to watch unfold is your approach to athletics.

Governor, in case you haven’t noticed, the so-called “front door” to the university is more like the gateway to an unlocked vault.

Just step right in and take—and spend—as much as you need.

Which seems to run counter to your well-established conservative fiscal values.

Your athletics director at Purdue, Morgan Burke, has a similar reputation for being, well, frugal. And according to many Boilermaker alums I’ve talked with, that’s to his detriment.

They point out that the men’s basketball coach and Purdue alum, Matt Painter, had to threaten a move to the University of Missouri to extricate from Burke the financial means purportedly necessary to keep the program nationally competitive.

And now they say Burke’s tightfisted ways are part and parcel to the demise of the football program, which ended this season with the firing of head coach Danny Hope despite earning back-to-back postseason berths.

Hope and his assistants, you see, were last in the Big Ten in collective compensation. And that won’t cut it in a culture that believes all you have to do is walk into that unlocked vault, take whatever you need, lavish it on the next set of sexiest coaches and, voila, Pasadena, here we come.

Prevailing wisdom is that you get what you pay for, even if sometimes you don’t. In terms of the latter, I offer up California’s Jeff Tedford, $7 million; Auburn’s Gene Chizek, $5.5 million; Tennessee’s Derek Dooley, $5 million; Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, $2.25 million; and Colorado’s Jon Embree, $1.5 million.

That’s how much these recently fired coaches will make for not coaching, thanks to buyout clauses.

On this front, you can thank Burke’s conservative ways. Hope got shown the door for a mere $600,000.

Anyway, Burke is now pledging to spend what it takes to find a guy who can turn Boilermaker football into a title contender and light a fire under a fan base that has started to abandon Ross-Ade Stadium.

Welcome to big-time athletics, Mitch.

Welcome, too, to the Big Ten/12/14/maybe 16. You will soon walk into a room of fellow presidents who have endorsed the initiatives of the league commissioner, Jim Delany, who just dropped the latest bomb on the intercollegiate athletics landscape by adding the University of Maryland and Rutgers University to your league.

It’s certainly a non-traditional way to keep the money flowing. Considering your non-conventional lease of the Indiana Toll Road, perhaps you will support these kinds of Major Moves for athletics.

You will bring a fresh perspective to the conversation. Whether your presidential peers and the commissioner who supposedly works for you value it will be interesting, indeed.

Yes, yours will be but one voice—one of 14 (for now) in the Big Ten, one of 100 or so in pursuit of “big-time” (read, big money) college athletics, one of 330 in the all-encompassing tent of Division I, where missions and budgets are all over the spectrum.

But it will be the same kind of different voice you brought to the Indiana statehouse, where governance as usual was no longer business as usual.

Can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

Boiler Up!•



Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at He also has a blog,

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