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November 20, 2012
LISTEN: Danny Hope on Tuesday
If Purdue is to make a coaching decision on the future of Danny Hope following Saturday's game, attendance numbers are likely to weigh heavily.
And in 2012, those numbers haven't been good. Purdue's average of 43,746 fans per home game this season - and the projection for Saturday's IU game is expected to be lower, around 42,000 - is the worst at Purdue since 1992.
It's not an atypical trend nationally, although the decline seems more pronounced for Purdue and similar programs. For FBS schools in 2011, the average game attendance was 46,074 per game, a decrease of 544 from the year before. Television, with the advent of HDTV and conference networks, along with the economy and more entertainment choices, are likely factors.
But Purdue has tried to stem the decline as much as possible, from a social media marketing campaign to public opportunities to greet coaches and players to community pride competitions. Hope, in his fourth year as Purdue's head coach, has been a supporter of the initiatives.
"We do put a lot of effort into getting our team and our coaches and myself out amongst our fan base, and dozens of times throughout the course of a year our team makes itself available to help market the football program," Hope said at his press conference Tuesday, prior to Purdue's senior day game vs. Indiana. "So I really appreciate the effort of our players. They've been very committed to Purdue football. We have great fans; we just don't have enough of them. We need to get more great fans on board."
Purdue fans haven't come out in force. At the Boilermakers' last home game, vs. Penn State on Nov. 3, an attendance of just less than 41,000 was announced. However, the Journal and Courier reported that only 23,000 or so were in attendance, based on actual ticket scan count numbers. Note: Purdue officials said late Tuesday that their data indicates that about 70-75 percent of people in attendance are scanned, which projects an actual crowd of just over 30,000, still short of the announced crowd of 41,000.
Perhaps that was in part due to the results on the field. In the two previous home games, when the Boilermakers had considered themselves a contender for a Leaders Division title, Purdue fell flat, being blown out in back-to-back weekends by Michigan and Wisconsin. It was the start of a five-game losing streak, including a loss at Minnesota, which had been winless in Big Ten play.
When asked about attendance, Hope noted that Purdue had started 3-1 in the nonconference, with a narrow loss at national title contender Notre Dame, before perhaps its biggest game in years vs. Michigan in Ross-Ade. And attendance for the Wolverines was the biggest of the season, at 50,105, but still well short of the 62,500 capacity.
"We came back to Ross-Ade Stadium and were still a ways a way and had a lot of empty seats," Hope said. "We put a great effort into (attendance), but we have to change from a mindset standpoint. I think there are a lot of things we need to address that are key factors to the program. We're hoping that our strong showing here at the end of the season will bring some fans back into Ross-Ade.
"We recognize that we didn't play as well at a focal point in the season and a lot of our fans gave up on our football team and we understand that. Our play manufactured that and was a factor in that, along with other things as well. But the football team hasn't given up. We've fought hard and came back and played well and we've won and got ourselves in position to have a winning season and get into postseason play and maybe play a pretty good bowl game. It's a great opportunity this weekend for our great fans and all the other fans that they can get back on board and make a difference and show up this weekend in Ross-Ade because it's a huge weekend against IU."
In Hope's four years as Purdue's coach, the Boilermakers have averaged 46,895 at home. By comparison, former coach Jim Colletto averaged 44,436 from 1991-96, while Joe Tiller averaged 59,182 in his 12 seasons in between. Data is inconsistent prior to the Colletto Era, because Purdue started charging for student tickets in 1989.
Hope says a lot is involved in coaching, from recruiting to player development to game preparation and everything in between, including driving attendance.
"My commitment since I have come to Purdue has been life-consuming," he said. "Every phase of the program, I've dedicated my life and the lives of our assistant coaches to. Everything from marketing to player development to recruiting, it's been a life commitment. That's what it takes at this level, and that's what it takes at Purdue.
"If we had put a better product on the field at a focal point of the season that might have helped in some ways, but we came back here 3-1 playing Michigan at home and it was slim as far as attendance goes. I think it's more than just the play on the field. I think there's a lot of things that need to be addressed to rally up the fan base in a lot of ways."
Asked what those issues are, Hope declined to talk about them now.
"I'd rather talk about Indiana and the Oaken Bucket and focus on the game rather than talk about a master advanced marketing plan that's detailed into the future," Hope said.
The likelihood increases if Ohio State beats Michigan and drops the Wolverines even further down the BCS rankings. Once it is mathematically certain that the Big Ten won't have a second BCS-bowl qualifying team, then the conference tie-in bowls can make their selections.
It seems clear that if Michigan State beats Minnesota it will be the Gophers and Boilermakers battling out for Meienke Car Care Bowl of Texas on Dec. 28 in Houston. The team left out of Houston would be destined for the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Jan. 1.
If Minnesota happens to beat Michigan State, then the Spartans will be staying home and the Gophers, with a 7-5 record, would almost certainly be headed to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 29 in Tempe, leaving Houston to take Purdue, the last remaining team from the Big Ten. The Heart of Dallas Bowl would then be forced to take an at-large.
The fourth-year Purdue assistant severely injured his back nearly two weeks ago and has been on crutches since leaving the hospital. He's been around, but in a limited capacity.
"But he's not physically able to coach or help us get prepared for the ball game," Hope said. "But having him around is important for the players and for him as well. He's not part of the preparation or part of the game management on Saturday."
Purdue's season could get extended on Saturday. But whether Nord would be available for bowl preparation for a late-December or a New Year's Day bowl game remains to be seen.
"Anytime you're dealing with a back, who knows?" Hope said. "It's as unpredictable an injury as you can have and his is significant right now."
Hope seems to fall in the middle.
He said he would hate to lose Illinois as a rival - one report has the Illini getting bounced to the Legends Division while the Terps and Knights would join the Leaders.
But Hope also sees the big picture of the new members, who will join in 2014, and that's dollar signs.
"I like the revenue part of it," Hope said. "I think you can take a lot of that money and earmark it for football and do some things to take the program to the next level that maybe we haven't had the resources in the last decade to be able to do. I think it's very promising for football at Purdue. With the economic times like they are, resources have been slim sometimes. So I think it's a huge opportunity for Purdue football to take some giant steps."
When the Big Ten TV contract with ESPN runs out in 2016, it's expected that the league will get a huge revenue boost to become the richest league in the country. One estimate by CBSsports.com had Big Ten schools bringing in an additional $30 million per year in athletic revenue, conservatively.
If Hope could control the money, how would he help his program?
He'd start by upgrading the facilities that aren't currently an "A-plus," though he wouldn't name specifically which facilities. But. more importantly, he thinks Purdue needs to spend more money on salaries for football assistant coaches.
He said Purdue's assistant coaches are among the lowest paid in the conference by $300,000 or so, and he thinks that hurt Joe Tiller in retaining some of his assistants, which in turn hurt the program's production late in Tiller's tenure.
It also can be tough to bring in new coaches, too, Hope said.
"It's huge in the hiring process. You limit the pool size," he said. "When you try to hire coordinators and your assistant coaches don't make very much, they're concerned about are the assistant coaches going to stay? They don't want to have to train people on an annual basis as coaches move in and out of the program.
"You can look and see where we're at. Any area we're not competitive enough in, if you're not competing with the lower-tier teams in the Big Ten than you're really struggling to give yourself a chance to compete with the upper-tier teams in the Big Ten."
And, ultimately, that shows up in results on the field, Hope said.
"Sometimes you have to really make sure you understand the difference between being a team that sometimes can beat a team like Ohio State - we have two of the last four years - or beat a team like Michigan and being a team like Ohio State or Michigan," Hope said. "There's a big difference, and we still have a long ways to go in separating the two."
He wants to break that streak.
So the Boilermakers are going to try something new for their regular-season home finale.
Instead of having Senior Day festivities immediately prior to kickoff on Saturday, Purdue will honor its seniors right after it finishes stretching, about 30 minutes before kickoff.
Then, the team will head back into the locker room for final preparations before official team introductions and kickoff.
Twenty Purdue players and five managers will be honored.
It'll practice earlier Wednesday and then join for a Thanksgiving dinner for the players, coaches and their families. The team will practice again Thursday morning and not be required to be back until team meetings Friday afternoon.
"You like some of the guys that can go home close by to take some teammates with them, get off their feet, eat some turkey and have a nice Thanksgiving," Hope said.
Hope mentioned defensive tackle Kawann Short, linebacker/defensive end Robert Maci, defensive backs Ricardo Allen, Josh Johnson and Landon Feichter and punter Cody Webster.
Short was first team all-league last season by media and second by coaches, and Allen was a second-team pick by coaches.
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