Canzano: Portland State in search of… a sports miracle?

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The writing has always been on the wall for Portland State athletics, but now it’s also in a 400-page operational analysis prepared by Collegiate Consulting.

The Vikings have digested that report and campus president Stephen Percy told me last summer that the plan was to give that review to his Athletics Future Committee, let them make some recommendations, and then hire an athletics director to implement a bunch of other people’s ideas.

Drop football or no?

Get out of the sports game altogether or go all-in?

Matt Brown at Extra Points raised those very questions in his industry-insider newsletter this week and it got the underbelly of low-level Division I athletics buzzing. The Vikings don’t have an on-campus football stadium, they’re woefully underfunded vs. Big Sky competition, and now facing a fork in the road without an AD. But what caught my eye in the report was the quote from the president’s office at PSU.

It read: “We are beginning the process of hiring a new Athletic Director and view this moment as the opportunity to select an experienced and visionary leader who can, working collaboratively with relevant staff and stakeholders, design a detailed and compelling vision for a stronger athletics program and identify a financially viable path forward within NCAA Division I.”

Sounds to me like they think they need to hire Jesus.

Yes, the five-star savior from Nazareth High.

He’s the only one that fits the lofty criteria that Percy’s office laid out in that quote. Either that or maybe PSU needs to just hire a good, qualified, experienced candidate who is well connected to our region and then fund the athletic department in a way that makes doing the job right possible.

Those are the only two options that work.

PSU isn’t afraid to spend money. It has hired a search firm to help. All it really needed was a priest. Or maybe some common sense and a telephone. All kidding aside, I do think Jesus would do a heck of a job bringing the Vikings back to life. Who else could turn five loaves of bread and two fish into a team meal for the football program? But I’m sure Jesus is consumed with more pressing matters than our state’s urban university and its ongoing sports-identity crisis.

Former AD Val Cleary left Portland State last July to go to work for Multnomah Athletic Club. Before that, men’s basketball coach Barret Peery bolted in April to be an assistant at Texas Tech. Before that, women’s basketball coach Lynn Kennedy left in March for McNeese State.

Not the kind of stepping stone moves that suggest health.

Percy appointed Linda Williams as the interim AD after Cleary left. I met with her months ago. Williams is a smart, well connected, capable person but she was never supposed to be on the job in January 2022. PSU should have already made a hire and sent a message about the importance of athletics. I suspect Percy, who was hired as president in May 2020, is moving methodically and looking for a bullet proof decision while slow playing the search-firm game because that’s what presidents do when they’re uncertain.

PSU needs to accept who it is. It needs to hire an AD who has some big-sports experience, knows the university well, and can mine our market for gift giving. Then, let the person go to work.

A biblical miracle isn’t what is needed. Still, that’s what PSU appears to still be in search of today. Because even as Percy assured me in August that the athletes on his campus were an important part of the university experience I will remain skeptical until I see evidence of it. The Vikings must lean a little harder into athletics.

Either that or they need to get out of the game.

Still, I’m having a difficult time looking at the commuter campus on the Park Blocks and thinking, “There’s no place for PSU in college sports anymore.” Because there really is, isn’t there? Not everyone plays college athletics to get to the NFL or NBA. I’ve met the athletes at PSU and watched them play. I’ve looked around the country and think the success at Sacramento State and some other places is a wonderful comparison. It demonstrates what athletics on this level can do to benefit and enrich campus life.

Time to make a hire and pick a path.

The writing may be on the wall — and in that 400-page report — but I hope Percy gets his eyes up so he can see the horizon.

Email: John@JohnCanzano.com

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