The people at Purdue were right, you know. The way they delivered the message was callous, tone-deaf. It was rude, condescending.
But it was absolutely correct.
|Three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year Matt Painter had been one of the league's lowest-paid coaches. (Getty Images)|
I say that without malice or derision, Purdue fans. I'm not saying your priorities are screwed up. If anything, this episode has suggested the opposite, that your priorities are right where they ought to be. These are tough economic times for most of us outside the Matt Painter tax bracket. If your discretionary income -- assuming you have any discretionary income -- is going toward your spouse, your kids, their braces, your house ... who could fault you for that? Not me.
But the people in charge of the John Purdue Club don't see it that way. They see it, according to an email sent to the booster club's roughly 9,000 members, as a problem. You're not giving enough of your dollars, discretionary or otherwise, to the Purdue booster club. That's what Purdue senior associate athletic director Nancy Cross wrote, and although hers was the only name at the bottom of the email, she probably was speaking for several layers of leadership at Purdue.
If she was speaking only for herself, well, she probably will be out of a job soon. Hey, I'm not calling for her dismissal. These are tough economic times, as I've mentioned. I'm just predicting her dismissal, because if she went on a rogue mission to chastise her fan base for not giving enough money to make millionaire Matt Painter happy, well, someone at Purdue will decide she's not the right person for that delicate job.
Running a booster club is tough work. I happen to know several current and former booster club presidents, and the best of the bunch handled their job with the sweetness of sugar and the precision of a scalpel. They separated you from your money in a way that made you feel like you were the one getting something out of it. And in a way, you were. You're not just contributing to your favorite team -- you're part of the team. Sweet, right?
The message from the John Purdue Club wasn't sugary, and in the hands of Nancy Cross, that email was no scalpel. That was an ax.
Its impact was messy, and although Cross emailed an apology the next day, its aim was true. Cross was right: Purdue had a near-Missouri experience with Matt Painter precisely because Purdue fans haven't given enough money.
See, Purdue is a unique school in that it uses no state funds to support its athletic department. It uses no university funding, either.
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That's the question of the moment: Which job is the top one out there, Missouri or N.C. State? Here's another question. How is this even a question? Read >>
Read those two sentences again.
Purdue pays for every scholarship, every coaching salary -- every stamp on every letter to every high school recruit -- with privately raised funds. That's impressive. That's a school that isn't bleeding an already bled-out state to pay its millionaires even more millions. Well done to Purdue. Wish more schools were like you.
But they're not.
Most schools tap into school money to pay for their sports. Some schools tap into state money. And most BCS schools have bigger booster programs than Purdue. The John Purdue Club has 9,000 members, roughly half the size of the Wolfpack Club at North Carolina State, to name one school. There are 22,000 members of IPTAY at Clemson, to name another school.
In addition to Purdue's stance on public funding and its smallish booster club, the school's football team filled barely 75 percent of its 62,500-capacity stadium. That's lost revenue right there, and for the sake of this argument, it doesn't matter that the Purdue football team stunk. That's not the point. The point is, money makes the world go 'round, even in college sports, and Purdue isn't flush. That's why Matt Painter has been one of the best coaches in the Big Ten -- three Coach of the Year awards in four years -- but one of its worst-paid. That's why his staff lost quality assistants to lesser basketball schools.
That's why he seriously considered leaving his alma mater for Missouri. That school was willing to pay above-average Mike Anderson like he was a great coach, and was willing to do the same for the more accomplished Painter. Missouri has multiple booster clubs and even multiple billionaire booster families -- the Lauries and the Kroenkes -- to cover those costs.
Lots of schools are flush with fan money. At Arkansas, which hired Anderson away from Missouri, the Razorback Foundation covers almost $3 million of football coach Bobby Petrino's income and supplemented the salary of Arkansas' previous basketball coach, John Pelphrey, by more than $1 million. At North Carolina, the Rams Club covers half of basketball coach Roy Williams' roughly $2.6 million annual income and more than half of football coach Butch Davis' $2 million. At Oklahoma State, the school has T. Boone Pickens throwing around millions like M&M's and, for good measure, once took out nearly 30 life insurance policies on its richest boosters. Those policies had a payout to the school of $10 million each, but OSU later canceled its borderline distasteful "Gift of a Lifetime" program.
Point being, money isn't just a part of college sports. It is college sports. But so is the complaining of fans. They freak out when their coach flirts with another school, and they go bonkers if that coach actually leaves. I know athletic directors who, even in the best of times, check their phone messages and their email with dread -- knowing million-dollar complaints will be lobbed angrily from fifty-dollar donors.
Boosters who give at Honda levels can't expect an Escalade of a coach. That's not how it works. And boosters who are boosters in name only? Meaning, boosters who root for the team but don't give any money at all?
This is college sports, friend. You get what you pay for.