Morgan J. Burke, who served as vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics at Purdue University from 1993 to 2016, died Monday (June 15) at his home in West Lafayette after a year-long battle with amyloidosis. He was 68.
Since retiring as athletics director, Burke was a university vice president for special projects, most notably working on the launch and development of Purdue University Global.
“Morgan left an indelible mark on Purdue Athletics, and thousands of student-athletes benefitted from his faithful leadership,” Purdue President Mitch Daniels said. “He was the ultimate competitor, and his passion for the Boilermakers was second to none. He continued to serve the university the last four years, doing everything he could to strengthen our mission. Our deepest condolences to Kate, Joyce, Morgan Jr. and Pat.”
Burke’s tenure as athletics director ranks as the longest in school history and upon his retirement was the fourth-longest at Football Bowl Subdivision institutions. He made his name as one of the visionary leaders in intercollegiate athletics.
“Morgan was a great friend and colleague to many of us and left an incredible legacy of tireless and selfless devotion to all things Purdue, but most of all our student-athletes, past and present, said Mike Bobinski, vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics. “He cared deeply about them and their success, and he proudly stood for all the right things in the world of intercollegiate athletics.”
“Not many people loved Purdue more than Morgan Burke,” Purdue men’s basketball coach Matt Painter said. “Morgan’s impact on Purdue Athletics was huge. He built a foundation for the modern program and impacted countless coaches, staff and student-athletes. Personally, I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for having the faith and confidence in me to lead our basketball program. To say I’m forever grateful to him for that would be an understatement. My heart goes out to Kate and their family.”
Burke worked vigorously to create an environment that fostered both academic and athletic success among Purdue’s student-athletes. No one wanted to see the Boilermakers succeed more than Burke did, and few expended more energy cheering them on to victory and graduation.
“I am truly heartbroken today,” Purdue women’s basketball coach Sharon Versyp said. “We have lost a leader, a mentor and a dear friend. Purdue University has lost an icon. Morgan Burke dedicated his life to Purdue Athletics. I never met a person who carried as much passion for student-athletes and made it a point to learn and interact with them on an individual basis. His personal approach to leadership ensured that every Boilermaker knew that they were cared for and that they had a voice. Morgan focused on building Purdue Athletics into more than just a successful sports program. He wanted to equip every student-athlete who walked through our doors the tools to go out into the world and be a champion, a leader and a catalyst to make the world a better place. And for his entire tenure, he made that mission a reality.”
When Burke succeeded George King, he pledged to build on the foundation already in place. Working with coaches and staff, aggressive goals were set. The department’s mission outlined its goals for “Developing Champions / Developing Scholars / Developing Citizens.”
On the athletics side, Burke’s expectation was to improve the position of Purdue teams in the Big Ten and nationally. Significant strides were made on both fronts. In 2009-10, 14 teams finished in the upper half of the Big Ten, the high-water mark in Burke’s time at Purdue. On the national scene, 14 squads earned NCAA postseason opportunities in 2011-12, the most in school history.
Two teams won NCAA championships, women’s basketball in 1999 and women’s golf in 2010, while eight student-athletes captured a combined 14 individual national crowns. The football team embarked on a run of 10 bowl games in 12 years from 1997 to 2008, and the men’s basketball team achieved an unprecedented string of back-to-back-to-back Big Ten championships in 1994, 1995 and 1996. All told, Burke oversaw 20 regular-season conference championships and 13 tournament titles.
Similar excellence was expected in the classroom, and student-athletes regularly performed equal to or better than the student body. The cumulative grade-point average for all Purdue student-athletes was above 3.0 for 15 consecutive semesters when Burke retired.
Recognizing the need for contemporary facilities, Burke and his staff identified and addressed construction and renovation projects benefiting every program – making an investment of more than a quarter of a billion dollars – with major makeovers to Ross-Ade Stadium, Mackey Arena, Holloway Gymnasium and the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex, as well as the building of Alexander Field, Bittinger Stadium, Folk Field, Schwartz Tennis Center and the Boilermaker Aquatic Center, which was renamed in his honor in May 2017.
A 1973 Purdue graduate in industrial management and captain of the swimming team his senior year, Burke was a member of Phi Beta Kappa scholastic honorary. He earned a master’s degree in industrial relations from Purdue in 1975 and a law degree from John Marshall Law School in Chicago in 1980. Burke pursued a successful career with Inland Steel Co. after law school, moving through 13 positions in an 18-year span. He was vice president when he departed to return to Purdue.
Beyond Purdue, Burke was past president of the Division 1A Athletic Directors Association and served on the NCAA Leadership Council and several Big Ten boards (Executive, Program/Budget and Compliance committees) and NCAA working groups (Championships and Competitions and Postseason Football committees).
Burke is survived by his wife, Kate, three children – Joyce (husband Ryan), Morgan Jr. (wife Molly) and Patrick (wife Courtney) – and three grandchildren: Kate, Andrew and Parker June.