Vikings Football Team Deserves a Crowd

Just last week, the sports section of your very own Portland State Vanguard ran a story by Alex Moore addressing campus-wide apathy toward PSU sports.  Alex talked about all of the teams that the university fields and cited some very good examples as to why you should be excited about the various Viking squads.  We have top-tier athletes competing in 15 sports, and they all deserve our attention. However, when it comes to sports, I, like most Americans, care first and foremost about football, so I wanted to address some of the reasons that the student body isn’t giving the football team the attention it deserves.

In case you haven’t noticed, the team is really good.  A record of 3–3 may not inspire a lot of folks to run out and start snatching up team gear, but when you stop to consider whom the losses were to, that record starts to look a lot better.

This Saturday the team suffered their worst loss of the season. It came on the road against Montana, the No. 12 team in the nation and last year’s Big Sky Conference co-champion. A Vikings win would have been very unexpected, and they did well to keep it close on the road against a quality opponent.

A couple of weeks ago, the Viks lost 34–38 in a game against Cal Poly that was competitive until the very end. The Mustangs were the other co-champions of the Big Sky last year and are currently ranked No. 19 in the nation in the Football Championship Subdivision. Losing in the second week of the season to California, a Football Bowl Subdivision program, was expected. What was surprising was that the Vikings kept the game within one touchdown and had opportunities to tie it right up until the end. Keeping those games competitive deep into the fourth quarter shows that coach Nigel Burton’s team is playing at the same level as some heavyweight opponents.

Keep in mind that when coach Burton took over this program in 2010, his predecessor, Jerry Glanville, had amassed a record of 9–24 over his three-year tenure.  Not only did Glanville set style back on the sidelines—football coaches should never wear cowboy hats, especially in Portland—he also demolished the perception of the program in the minds of students and area residents.  Coach Burton has turned around the program rapidly, and now it’s time for Portland to take notice.

Speaking of hats, in a completely informal scientific survey of Portland-area shopping emporiums, I was unable to find anywhere in Portland to buy a PSU hat besides the bookstore. Nowhere. Ducks, Beavers and Timbers merchandise is everywhere. It seems the only place in this state where you can’t buy a Ducks hat is at the OSU
Beaver Store.

According to athletic director Torre Chisholm, “PSU actually has product placement in a number of locations, including in select Dick’s, Fred Meyer, Lids, Champs, etc.” PSU merchandise may be out there, but as of now it’s harder to find than it should be. Chisholm acknowledges this, saying: “Ideally we want to expand beyond sporting goods stores. After all, PSU is the largest university in the city (and state) and has roughly 75,000 local alumni.”

The Oregon University System calendar is also working against building support for the team by forcing a huge chunk of the football season to take place before fall term begins.  This year the Vikings played half of their home schedule before students were even on campus.  At most colleges, football and classes start at roughly the same time, allowing students the opportunity to go to all of the home games, get to know the players and build some excitement around the program.

The other Oregon schools deal with the same scheduling challenges with differing levels of success.  The Ducks don’t have any problem filling their stadium with rabid non-student fans regardless of when the games are played, but early season Beavers games suffer from a shortage of intensity in the student section.  Whether that contributes to the fact that Oregon State consistently struggles in August and September is up for debate, but it certainly can’t help.

These comparisons are of two high-profile schools that receive regular national attention. PSU is not that kind of school, so the problem is amplified. We need to be even more active in growing our brand and giving people in the area every chance to see what a good football team we have.

Apparently, scheduling home games before classes start is unavoidable. In an email responding to the Vanguard’s questions, Chisholm laid out the realities of FCS scheduling: “Schools have 12 weeks to play 11 games, starting on Labor Day weekend. We have eight conference games, four at home, four on the road. These usually start the weekend before classes begin. So, we play the entire pre-season,
including one or two home games prior to school starting. The best
solution is for PSU to become a semester school!”

Short of changing the entire state university system to semesters, it seems like the best fans can do this season is make a concerted effort to get to the rest of the home games. I was at the Sept. 26 game against Cal Poly, and the stands were depressingly empty for what turned out to be an amazing game. And it was free! It was a Thursday night at 7 p.m., and was completely free to students and inexpensive for my non-student friends. A decent beer was $3.50 and a Bud Light was $2.50. There were on-field antics by guys in green-man suits, fans kicking field goals for prizes, high production quality videos on the jumbotron, cheerleaders and a terrifying goth marching band at halftime. Most importantly, it was a quality football game in which I had a rooting interest, because I go to school here and I’d rather we won than lost. Go Viks! As far as value for a night out, that’s about as good as you can get in downtown Portland.

The Vikings play their home games at Jeld-Wen Field at 1844 S.W. Morrison St. They play North Dakota on Oct. 26, Weber State on Nov. 2, and Sacramento State on Nov. 16.  Come help fill the stands; this team deserves a crowd.