To whom it may concern…

Dear Portland State Athletic Department:

I have a question. Where do you hang your hat? We are not a university that fills their rafters with championship banners, or even our bleachers with butts. We have had some wonderful athletes who made impacts in the NFL and NBA, but we won’t be known as a go-to school for making the big leagues anytime soon. We will never be North Carolina, University of Southern California or even University of Oregon when it comes to athletic fame. Most Portland State sports fans would be thrilled to have Oregon State’s status, notoriety and fans, but the Beavers, just like the Ducks, exist on a higher level than the Vikings can compete with.

One place PSU can compete is in the classroom. Over the last few years, coaches and academic advisers from the athletic department have put their focus on the student in student-athlete, and the results are in. The NCAA recently released their annual Academic Progress Rate and PSU received high marks across the board. Special praise needs to go to the men’s basketball and cross country teams. Men’s cross country scored a perfect mark of 1,000 and the basketball team a 994. Both these numbers set their teams in the top 10 percent nationally, meaning that academically they are one of the best 35 programs in the country in their respective sports.

Coach Tyler Geving, entering his fifth year at the helm of men’s basketball, started his tenure with a team under APR sanctions for poor classroom performance. He has seemingly turned this team around completely. They are the only Big Sky and state of Oregon Division 1 men’s basketball team to be ranked in the top 10 percent.

Overall this year, PSU athletics averaged a score of 976, up 10 points from last year’s report. Other notable scores came from women’s cross country (990), and men’s indoor and outdoor track (989).

Being known as an institution that focuses on its athletes’ classroom accomplishments is a fine position to be in. Parents want their children to succeed in school, and no offense intended, athletes of the caliber of PSU’s need practical knowledge that they won’t get from playing in the big game, but can get from a college course. Those experiences in sport are not to be dismissed either. I wish I could know the pressure of having to hit a game-winning shot on the opponent’s home floor. I wish I could know the highs of a comeback win or the lows of a heart-wrenching defeat. Those are defining moments for anyone, and whether one succeeds or fails, they are gaining something from that process.

As someone who closely follows many PSU teams, I have certainly been guilty of focusing too much on wins and losses. We take those numbers as the only measurement of team achievement. If a team is not getting more wins than last year, the season is considered a failure. I’d like to think that we should be judging our athletes on a broader spectrum, taking into consideration not only their physical play, but mental maturity, academic progress, contributions to the community and overall ability to function as an adult human.

Every person who walks through a PSU classroom door has a goal in mind. Most of us are here to earn a degree that leads to a career. This is true for the majority of student-athletes as well. So let’s celebrate their achievements, let’s cheer when they do something spectacular on their field of play, and let’s recognize that the academic wins are just as important as the ones that go in the record book. Let PSU be known as the big school that gets it done academically.

Jay Pengelly
Vanguard Sports Desk