Discover more from Bald Faced Truth by John Canzano
Canzano: Finding logic in a 74-point drubbing
What I made of Oregon's 81-7 victory over Portland State.
It should not be said that Portland State got “nothing” out of Saturday’s game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium.
The Vikings were paid $575,000.
They got beat 81-7.
It’s like Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “In this world, you get what you pay for.” Except I’m pretty sure on Planet NCAA those poor PSU football players will have to share proceeds with the school’s other sports programs. None of those other athletes spent three-plus hours on Saturday getting turfed. Still, that’s the game.
I’m not here to criticize UO coach Dan Lanning’s team for scoring 11 touchdowns and a field goal in the season opener. The Ducks lined up and ran regular football plays. PSU couldn’t stop them. As coach Bobby Bowden once told an angry opponent after a blowout victory at Florida State: “It's your job to keep the score down, not mine.”
When it was finally done, Oregon had 729 yards of offense and the Duck mascot — who performs push-ups after every score — had a case of compartment syndrome.
Before we go much further I should probably explain the difference between apples and oranges in college football.
Oregon is an apple. It’s an FBS member, which means it can offer up to 85 full scholarships. Home games are played at Autzen Stadium, where the Ducks drew an average of 54,950 last season. The program is backed by Nike and mega-booster Phil Knight. And the school’s NIL collective — Division Street, Inc. — has roughly the same buying power as Amazon.
Portland State is an orange. As a member of the FCS division, where it gets a maximum of 63 scholarships. Those can be divided into half-scholarships. The Vikings home games take place at Hillsboro Stadium, where they draw an average of about 4,000 fans. Knight doesn’t show up to Bruce Barnum’s post-game news conferences. The PSU program does have a high-profile sponsor, however.
Years ago, on a recruiting road trip the coach and an assistant stopped for gas. Barnum bought a bag of flavored pretzels and liked them so much he wrote to company headquarters. That’s how PSU’s coach became a spokesperson for Dot’s Pretzels — billed as “the snack you didn’t know you needed.”
Oregon’s athletic department generated $153.5 million in 2022.
PSU collected a total of $16.8 million.
The football programs of those two NCAA bookends met on an understandably tilted playing field on Saturday. The Ducks were there to break a sweat, get a win in front of 45,723 paying customers, and use the day to get ready for next week’s game at Texas Tech. The Vikings were in it for the money and to hopefully not lose a bunch of players to injury so they can compete in the games they actually have a chance to win this season.
“I lost seven guys in the fourth quarter last year when we played Washington,” Barnum told me earlier this week.
It’s why PSU’s coach entered Saturday’s game with a master plan. He vowed to yank his starters in the fourth quarter should the game get out of hand. Five scores or more was the threshold. The Vikings found themselves behind by six touchdowns at halftime.
Last season, Portland State made $500,000 to play at Washington. It collected another $435,000 to travel to San Jose State. Next week, PSU will make $400,000 to play at Wyoming. And in 2024, the Vikings have signed contracts to travel to Washington State ($563,000) and San Diego State ($475,000) for games.
It’s a business model, be sure.
I just hope the PSU administration took notice of what happened on Saturday. The football program did its part to subsidize the rest of the university’s athletic department.
Stephen Percy, the recently retired PSU president, didn’t understand the calculus. He was an empty suit. Percy showed up to one football game a season, ignoring one of the fundamental truths of higher education — like it or not, your sports programs live on the front porch. They drive enrollment, contribute to campus pride, market your school and serve as glue for a student body.
Dr. Ann E. Cudd, who was hired as president by PSU in March, must know better. She played basketball and swam in middle school. She also ran cross country in high school. I look forward to seeing if the Vikings athletic department finally got an advocate on its own campus.
It sure needs one.
Portland State is now 4-45 all-time in games vs. FBS programs. The last win came in 2015 when Barnum’s team upset Washington State, 24-17. Nobody will ever forget the sight of the late Mike Leach and his staff frantically buzzing about the opposing sideline late in the game. Later, Leach told me Barnum was a master chess player.
“I had a really special quarterback and safety that season,” Barnum said.
He likes his quarterback this year, too. It’s why he pulled Dante Chachere late in the third quarter, along with a line of other starters. Chachere rushed for 53 yards and threw a touchdown pass on Saturday. He’ll live to throw some others in the coming weeks.
I had mixed feelings as I saw Oregon score at will against an overmatched Portland State team. Not just because it underscored the differences between the haves and have-nots in major college athletics. Rather, because dozens of those Vikings players volunteer every summer at Camp Exceptional, an annual summer camp for special-needs kids that my family runs.
In July, I watched Chachere and teammates such as defensive backs Ronan Gay and Michael Jackson and linebacker Isaiah Henry and 20 other PSU players showed up at 8 a.m. ready to make an impact. They didn’t come for a paycheck. They volunteered. The camp is the highlight of the summer for some of those children.
For some of the players, too, I suspect.
A few of those PSU players told me they couldn’t wait to walk into Autzen Stadium and play a football game in front of all those people. They’d be on television, too. None of them seemed fazed by the possibility they might lose the game by 40, 50 or even 74 points. But that’s how these FBS vs. FCS match-ups often set up.
In major college football, as ex-coach Chris Petersen likes to say “you’re either at the table, or you’re on the menu.”
There was a symbiotic relationship on Saturday. Oregon got what it needed. So did the Vikings. Both teams won — and lost. The game was simultaneously essential and pointless. I’m a little uncomfortable with any football game that has “81” on one side the scoreboard. Also, I still have no idea if the Ducks are great or even if PSU is bad.
It was a business transaction disguised as a game.
Sometimes apples and oranges end up in the same basket.
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