By STEVE KRAH
John Madia sees a vibrant future for college baseball in general and Purdue University baseball in particular.
“The sport — to me — is on a similar trajectory as college basketball,” says Madia, the director of player development for the Boilermakers in West Lafayette, Ind. — a role created for the 2020 season. “The lights are getting brighter. The stage is getter bigger.
“College baseball has a very good chance to be a healthy revenue generator for universities.”
Madia sees momentum building for the idea of starting the season — at least at the NCAA Division I level — later and playing into July.
“We’re in total favor of that,” says Madia, who earned baseball letters at Purdue in 1975, 1976 and 1978 and came the Boilers to take the new position of director of baseball operations in 2015. “Team would playing in better weather in north and it would level the playing field. We’d have a better chance of keeping top talent in-state.
“It would not surprise me if 6,000 to 8,000 a game at Alexander Field with that model. People in the community to can go out to nice venue at a reasonable price. Purdue is very well-placed. Our ability to add seating is easy. We have very generous concourse areas and room for more seating down the left field line.”
That’s the future. In the present, Madia is helping the program maximize its potential while getting ahead of challenges.
Madia’ efforts complement those of Boilers head coach Greg Goff, assistants Cooper Fouts, Chris Marx and Harry Shipley and supervisor of operations Tim Sarhage.
There’s a planning meeting each morning because there are a lot of moving parts.
“As much as possible we want to anticipate as many scenarios as we can
proactive rather than reactive,” says Madia. “When we’e prepared it takes the stress off our program and student-athletes.
“We want to make sure everyone knows their role and how it can help us be successful on the field, classroom and community.”
In D-I baseball, besides areas like strategic and practice planning, training and travel, there are other things to navigate like NCAA regulations, compliance, player needs and alumni.
“We always boil it down to this: We have to do a great job with our student-athletes,” says Madia. “We them to look back and say I had a great student-athlete experience at Purdue. That’s going to bode well for our future.”
To achieve this goal, the school has assembled high baseball I.Q. personnel and added many resources — academic, cultural, time management and medical (which addresses physical and mental well-being).
Of course right now, COVID-19 protocols are a major issue. The virus halted the 2020 season after 14 games (the Boilers went 7-7).
“These kids have ever been exposed to anything like that,” says Madia. “Players have had relatives with virus.”
NCAA D-I rules allow a 45-day window for fall practice. Purdue started in September ended in late October.
“We were plowing new ground,” say Madia. “We never had to plan a fall around a COVID world.
“Following strict guidelines put in place by the university, players are tested every week.
“If there’s an exposure, there’s a very aggressive protocol to get them out of the bubble,” says Madia. “We spent a lot of time as a staff to build natural bubbles within the program/ The ame guys with each other everyday.
“We had to single out baseballs for them. Equipment was wiped down. It was a lot of work and planning but it kept us safe.
“We got through entire fall without any major disruptions.”
Moving back to the individual phase, they’ve gone from 20 hours a week of practice with athletes to eight.
The Boilers have a relatively large number of newcomers. It’s been a challenge to build camaraderie while social distancing.
“Coach Goff really likes to do a lot of team activities and build that rapport and culture of family,” says Madia.
Purdue goes virtual after Thanksgiving. Most students will leave campus next Wednesday and not return until January.
Madia says they must test negative for COVID before being allowed back on-campus.
“In-season we’ll probably be testing our guys everyday,” says Madia. “It looks like the Big Ten (Conference) will not allow non-conference games. The protocol is same for all conference schools.”
If there are more Big Ten games than usual — say four-game weekend schedules instead of three — Madia wonders if teams will be allowed more than the usual 27-man travel roster.
Prior to returning to Purdue in his operations role, Madia worked in industry as an executive with Dow Chemical and CH2M as a global business and HR leader.
He has long been on the Purdue Athletic Advisory Board and held various advisory roles to the College of Agriculture.
He has coached amateur baseball and served on the board of the Indiana Bulls travel organization. He was an associate scout for the Baltimore Orioles.
Former Purdue head coach Doug Schreiber brought Madia on as director of operations. In that role, he was responsible for alumni outreach, player and staff professional/career development and other general marketing/operations duties to advance the program.
“I always viewed Purdue as one of the best decisions I made in my life,” says Madia. “Coming out of Purdue University can definitely open doors for you. It’s up to you to kick them in.
“I’ve always maintained good relationships with coaches and players. This is one way of giving back and staying involved.
“I’ve had a ball with it. With a new position you get to determine what that looks like when you stand it up.”
A lefty swinger and thrower, Utica, N.Y., native Madia played first base for Joe Sexson and Dave Alexander when the Boilers played across campus at Lambert Field. He missed the 1977 season with injury.
“Coach Sexson would make a great mayor,” says Madia. “He knew everybody. He had a great way of communicating with each player as an individual.
“He was a fun guy to be around. He was also ultra-competitive.”
Alexander, who died Feb. 26, 2020 at 79, was the coach for Madia’s last two Purdue seasons and two became close friends after that.
“He took the whole game of baseball to another baseball with his knowledge and I.Q.,” says Madia of Alexander. “He taught you how important it was to appreciate and honor the game.”
Alexander brought intensity to the diamond.
“If you were meek and didn’t want to bring it everyday you weren’t going to be very successful around Coach Alexander,” says Madia. “Everybody saw that side of Alex. the side they didn’t see was how loyal he was to the guys that played for him. He would do anything for you. When you were done playing for hm was the time to build that friendship.”
With Madia’s input, Alexander began recruiting in upstate New York. Many good players come from that area to this day.
“With Dave Alexander there was no gray. It was black and white. If he trusted you, he was with you,” says Madia. “He was very, very passionate about politics and history. I stayed in close contact with him all the way up to the end. He had a big impact on my life.”
Madia was named Distinguished Alumnus by the School of Animal Sciences and the College of Agriculture in 2006 and 2007, respectively, and a Purdue Old Master in 2014.
John and Jean, also a Purdue graduate, have four children and Boiler grads — Megan (2005), Katie (2007), former Purdue baseball player Drew (2010) and Dan (2011).