Morgan Burke

Although Intercollegiate Athletics is a self-supporting entity and receives no state funding, Morgan Burke’s facility plan has included both new buildings and major renovations. (Photo by Mark Simons)

Burke’s Business

How a Krannert grad changed the course of Purdue Athletics

Sustainability is a trademark of good business. For Morgan Burke (BSIM ’73, MSM ’75), on the cusp of 20 years as Purdue’s athletics director, the long haul has been accentuated by a businesslike approach to building competitive teams that simultaneously score well on quizzes and tests. And as the fifth-longest-tenured athletics director among his NCAA Division I peers, he seems to be leaving quite a mark.

With a law degree and a successful 18-year career at Inland Steel Company, Burke may have been more surprised than anyone when the athletics department from his alma mater came calling. “They wanted a business person,” he says. “At the time, they recognized the skill set needed to do this job was a little broader. In a case like Purdue, you’re a freestanding business within the university, raising money and operating like a small business.”

A former swim team captain, Burke knew firsthand the dedication of student-athletes, along with the payoff in careers that come from those tension-filled experiences on the fields of play. He also knew that all 18 varsity Purdue sports — not just the “big ticket” teams of football and basketball — deserved equal treatment and attention. “When I got here those Olympic and other sports [swimming, tennis, etc.] were called ‘non-revenue’ sports,” Burke says. “That’s just demeaning. We’re not going to define them on whether they make money or not.”

To that end, Burke and staff began building Purdue sports across the board. “The thing I underestimated was the void we had in facilities,” he says. “It’s really taken 20 years to eat away at that.”

Although Intercollegiate Athletics is a self-supporting entity and receives no state funding, Morgan Burke’s ambitious facility plan has included the building of the Boilermaker Aquatic Center (2001), the Tom Spurgeon Golf Training Center (2005), the Dennis J. and Mary Lou Schwartz Tennis Center (2006) and Alexander Field (2012), as well as major renovations to Ross-Ade Stadium (2003) and Mackey Arena (2011) and significant upgrades to Belin Court in Holloway Gymnasium (2006), Schleicher Field in the Mollenkopf Athletic Center (2006) and the Varsity Soccer Complex (2012).

Just as important to Burke, however, is the “25/85 Club,” which aims for an average top 25 finish across all sports and a graduation success rate of 85 percent.

As for keeping in line with the often-confounding rules of the NCAA, Burke says his business law background comes in handy there, too. “The NCAA is just like any complex regulatory environment. Some people have to worry about the SEC. Some people have to worry about the FTC. There are a plethora of rules and regulations with the NCAA, all put in for good cause. We just have to make sure our systems are in place.”

Burke says business metrics are part and parcel of his job these days. From dealing with the rising costs of scholarships to getting a handle on the ever-evolving social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, he says Krannert taught him to look at a bunch of data and make sense of it.

“To this day I’m a big Krannert fan,” Burke says. “The ability to allow people to understand business in quantitative terms has always been a hallmark of the school.”