Paid to lose?

    After Portland State quarterback Sawyer Smith hit senior Tremayne Kirkland for a 26-yard touchdown pass against New Mexico on Sept. 2, the Vikings had the 17-6 win over their Division I-A opponent in the bag.

    Seeing the sold-out University Stadium emptying early was a gratifying experience, said PSU athletic director Teri Mariani, who made the trek to Albuquerque to see the game.

Despite playing at the Division I-AA level with a budget less than what many head coaches make at other universities, PSU dominated the Lobos and earned the upset victory ?” and a $250,000 paycheck for playing the game.

    While every college football team attempts to schedule easy victories into their season, weaker teams are demanding increasingly larger guaranteed money appearance fees to play against the nation’s elite programs. The New Mexico game was one of three “pay to play” games on the Vikings’ 2006 schedule.

    ”It’s a little bit tougher to get I-A schools, because they don’t want to pay a I-AA school to beat them,” said Mariani. “The expectation is that the I-A school will beat them.”

    Last season, PSU earned $200,000 plus $10 for every ticket the university sold from their season opener at Oregon State and $130,000 for playing at Boise State. PSU lost both games ?” a 41-14 loss to the Beavers and a 21-14 shortcoming in Idaho.

    ”A lot of people count us out as a throwaway,” senior wide receiver Kenneth Mackins said. “[Getting paid] is done all over. I don’t mind. We go into all the games thinking we can win.”

This year Portland State will earn $1 million in appearance fees from the football program alone and $130,000 for men’s basketball games.

    ”These games are really necessary because of our funding situation,” said Mariani. “It goes back into the athletic program to help with paying our bills. Part of the money goes to the football program. We bought some new uniforms for them. After all, they are the ones playing the games, but most of the money goes into the general fund.”

    The win over New Mexico brought PSU’s all-time record over Division I-A schools to 2-20, with PSU’s last win over a Division I-A school back in 2000 against Hawaii. The same day PSU beat New Mexico, fellow Big Sky school Montana State beat Colorado 19-10 to open their season, only their third win all-time over a Division I-A opponent.

    Portland State will travel to the University of California, Berkeley, on Sept. 16 and will pick up $400,000 to play the Golden Bears. Barely over a month later, the Vikings play another Pac-10 powerhouse in the University of Oregon Ducks down at Autzen Stadium for a $350,000 payday.

    ”President Daniel Bernstine is a Cal alum. No one was more excited to get Cal on the schedule than him,” Mariani said.

    Both the Cal and Oregon games were scheduled after PSU had already committed to playing two other universities, though Mariani had concerns with the Vikings’ original schedule and was seeking replacement games.

    ”There were two games I was concerned with, one being McNeese State, only because of Hurricane Katrina, from a travel standpoint,” she said. “The other game was Southern Oregon as a home game. Nothing against them but they are a NAIA school. I didn’t think we would draw very well. It’s a game that probably would be over in the first quarter.”

    PSU must now pay McNeese State and Southern Oregon $50,000 each for breaking their contracts. While Mariani was more than happy to drop McNeese State and Southern Oregon for the large paydays and exposure Cal and Oregon provide, she said it is strange to be playing three Division I-A schools.

    ”We certainly don’t want to be playing three usually,” Mariani said, adding that one game with a $600,000 payday is ideal. “The concern is health. You get beat up and banged up so much and sometimes you get blown out so much that it affects your psyche. This was the year to do it because we have a lot of depth.”

    Portland State is currently pursuing matches against Kansas, Wisconsin or Auburn for 2007. Each school has awarded at least $600,000 for a single game appearance fee this season.

    Senior quarterback Sawyer Smith isn’t concerned with “playing up” against Division I-A competition.

    ”We don’t put a lot of emphasis on it. We know we’re playing tough competition,” he said. “I don’t think a whole lot of people gave us a chance against New Mexico. I see us winning a Big Sky championship.”