Silver lining in football’s shocking announcement

Prior to winter break, Portland State President Wim Wiewel released an update about the current financial shortfall that the school is facing. In the release,
the president explained that unrepresented, unclassified staff members will be taking a substantial cut to their pay raise for the 2014–2015 year. Wiewel also explained that he wanted to reduce capital expenditures in general throughout the school. However, the last announcement claimed that PSU can no longer afford to subsidize the football team, and is requiring the program to become self-sufficient by the 2014–2015 school year.
“The obvious conclusion people jump to is, ‘You guys are going to drop football,’” Mike Lund, head of the football program told The Oregonian. “No. This secures the program. Now it’s not reliant on the university. It’s on us to run the program efficiently and generate more money.”
Upon initially reading the statement, it’s difficult not to think that the program might be facing a tough road ahead. However, many in the athletics program believe that it will take the program in a positive direction. David Hersh, the president of the Viking
Athletic Partnership in charge of ticket sales, said:“I applaud it; it’s just good business. There is no reason we can’t be self-sufficient.”
Although the change seems to be universally liked by staff members in the program, we wanted to get more information about the process that lead to this decision, and also the specific changes it may have on the program.
“As a university, PSU has had numerous budget challenges in the past,” Torre Chisholm, head of the athletics department told the Vanguard. “The discontinuation of football was a topic of discussion a few times in PSU’s history…[the removal of the subsidies] is happening now, because the university has a major structural budget deficit and is looking for savings opportunities in all areas of campus.”
However, it was Chisholm’s suggestion that instead of removing the program altogether, which would cause major structural issues, the program needed to become self-sufficient instead.
“This was one of many concepts for cost-savings in athletics that was discussed and evaluated by the university’s leadership team,” he said. And ultimately, it was the decision that the president liked the best.
Over the summer, Wiewel formed a task force to begin to talk about how to manage the $15 million rebudgeting that he knew would be coming this year. Right away, the athletics department was the first to be under consideration.
“We talked about a number of different possibilities,” the president said. “Should we get rid of sports altogether? Should we consider moving to lower divisions? Then football came to the table, and we thought it should totally be removed.”
It was around this time that Chisholm was asked to come in to give input on how best to remove funding for the athletics program without totally killing any particular program. Chisholm knew that the football program could support itself with the right changes, and encouraged the decision to become self-supporting. It would keep the program, jobs and fans—and cut about $800,000 from the budget.
“That’s what made this approach so attractive,” Wiewel said. “Instead of eliminating football, or athletics altogether…this is much more of a modest impact on people.”
There were also a lot of factors that the president didn’t consider about the ramifications of removing the program entirely that were brought up to him by
Chisholm. Based on Title IX requirements, Portland State is required to have a reasonable balance between female and male scholarship athletes. While normally schools struggle to make sure that they have enough women’s teams, the removal of football would actually cause there to be a shortage of men in the athletics program, requiring the removal of several women’s sports.
“We just didn’t think that was an acceptable option,” the president said.
Although it’s encouraging to know that there were many people involved in this decision and that the impact should be far less than what it originally appeared to be, it’s hard to believe that there won’t be any changes to the program at all.
“I respect the decision and appreciate the impact it will have on preserving other academic and student support services on campus,” Chisholm explained. “That said, it will become more challenging to achieve the competitive and academic goals athletics has established for the football program. Athletics has its work cut out to grow campus and community support for football, and ultimately expand revenues to deliver the football program that PSU deserves.”
So here are the facts: The program can truly become self-supporting, but they are going to need to increase the number of Football Bowl Subdivision games they play per year and see an increase in season tickets sold. On the bright side, the team will be able to remain in the Big Sky Conference and continue to play at Jeld-Wen Field. “
Athletics will work to minimize the impact on student athletes. We will continue to offer the same level of scholarship support to the football program,” Chisholm said in regards to how it will affect students. “Other impacts will include: inability to retain quality coaches; reduced funding for team travel, which could affect the number of games we play; and reductions in recruiting and equipment funding.”
There are going to be a lot of departments all over the school that will feel the rough effects of this rebudgeting.
“I give Torre a lot of credit for thinking very long, very hard and very creatively about how he could meet what the university needed to do, while still protecting and safeguarding the athletic department,” Wiewel said. “And I truly feel that he exemplified being a leader of a unit.”
The Vanguard will keep you up-to-date with information regarding the budget for the football team and what kind of effect it may have for next season. Ultimately, though, the only way to guarantee that the program survives is going to be more student involvement—showing up to games. PSU has an exceptional football program, and it would be a huge shame to lose it.