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Last updated: Fri. Aug. 08, 2014 - 06:25 am EDT

Purdue athletic director embraces big-school autonomy

Burke wants to do 'what's right' for student-athletes

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WEST LAFAYETTE -- Now that we have autonomy with the power five conferences in college sports -- meaning the Big Ten, the SEC, the Pac-12, the ACC and the Big 12 call their own big-issue shots -- what's next?

Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke has some thoughts.

The No. 1 priority -- make sure the college sports model that produces $2.7 billion in scholarships to student athletes across the country doesn't disappear like the concept that the Big Ten actually has 10 schools.

“We have to figure out a way to preserve that,” Burke said. “We have to embrace the issues, manage the facts and be willing to compromise.”

On Thursday the NCAA Division I Board of Directors passed a proposal to give the five major conferences the power to make some -- but not all -- of their own rules in an effort to blunt the potential impact generated by lawsuits and Congress.

“We're not pure amateurs,” Burke said. “We're not pure professionals. We've created a hybrid, and we don't want to lose that model.”

To put it in another way, “Now things can turn to the substance,” Burke added. “We can focus on the intercollegiate model, which to me is the student, the athlete, and the things that surround the student athlete experience.”

Here's a reality check -- just because the 65 major conference schools have the power to address such issues as paying for the full cost of a scholarship or loosening the rules on contact between athletes and agents doesn't guarantee they'll agree on how to do it.

“We won't agree on everything,” Burke said. “We will have differences of opinion, but now we have a way to deal with the issues.

“The other schools (mid-majors such as Ball State, Indiana State and IPFW) can look at it and say, Is this what we want to do? What we can do?

“We know the broad items, but don't know if we know the mechanics and how quickly we can pull it through the system.”

Those mechanics will have a financial cost, Burke added, but not so much that Purdue will cut sports.

“I can't speak for others,” he said.

Burke said autonomy preserves NCAA Division I, and ensures that “all 351 schools maintain revenue distribution and access to championships, and they share in the governance on many items.”

So what are the key items the power conferences will tackle?

Let's take a look:

1) The full cost of an athletic scholarship. Estimates are this will be between $3,000 and $4,000 a year, but that's not etched in stone.

Morgan said the full cost consists of five components: tuition and fees, room and board, book cost, travel and miscellaneous expenses.

“In the issue of closing the gap, we're in agreement,” Burke said. “On how to close it, there's a lot of debate.”

He said the challenge will come in determining how to address travel (which could include allowing schools to pay for an athlete's family's expenses to attend games) and miscellaneous expenses (items such as clothing, toothpaste, laptops and more).

“We'll try to agree what's in the basket for travel and miscellaneous expense,” Burke said. “Then you can cost it. Everybody gets the same basket. It won't be easy, but it can be done. If you don't do it right, you can run into unintended consequences.”

2) Health and safety. Ensure athletes have the best equipment, training, medical and insurance care. Burke wants to make sure all schools have the same access.

3) Time demands. The 20-hours-a-week, in-season participation rule -- covering practices and games -- needs updated.

“We all wink at the 20-hour rule because it's more than 20,” Burke said. “You have to look at it sport by sport. Look at distance runners. They'll train more than 20 hours because that's what you have to do to go to the Olympics. It's the same with swimming. You look at it sport by sport and see what we can do.”

4) Freshman eligibility as it pertains to academic readiness to succeed. Basically, the concept that freshmen shouldn't play their first year to better concentrate on school work.

“I'm very concerned about the preparation of young people coming in academically and doing a great job,” Burke said. “We need to look at it sport by sport. What needs to change?”

Burke said all these issues will get attention in the coming months, but he doesn't know when anything would be implemented. He said change shouldn't wait on the outcome of lawsuits or potential Congressional action.

“I don't think you should wait. Move forward and attack.

“At Purdue we take the graduation rate seriously. We take the job placement rate, seriously. I want to make sure we don't lose sight that we need to help create a pathway for that. A lot of other issues can get in the way. We need to focus on what's right for these kids.”

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


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