Canzano: Portland State blew $61,500 coming up with an answer it could have had free
Some Friday thoughts...
The ink is officially dry on the contract of new Portland State athletic director John Johnson. I obtained that document — and some others — in a public records’ request filed last week.
Johnson will begin work on May 1. His contract runs four years. It will pay him $222,000 annually, a raise over the $186,000 made by his predecessor, Valerie Cleary. Johnson’s deal also includes a country club golf membership and $25,000 in moving expenses.
It’s a tricky job with shaky administrative support. I wish the guy luck. I’m also left wondering why PSU spent so much money making the hire. Johnson was sitting without a job in Nebraska and would have probably answered a “HELP WANTED” advertisement in the campus newspaper.
Instead, Collegiate Sports Associates ran the search for Portland State. It charged a consulting fee of $30,000 for the task. Another firm, Collegiate Sports Consulting, billed the university $3,500 a month over nine months in 2021 to publish a 400-page analysis of the athletic department.
Total consulting costs: $61,500.
Painful, isn’t it?
I’m skeptical that PSU president Stephen Percy values sports. I think it’s why he wasted so much time and money paying outsiders to make this hire and any ensuing decisions appear bullet proof. Meanwhile, the Vikings’ football team will bus hours away to games again next season, scrimping on travel expenses while subsidizing the rest of the athletic department.
Some thoughts (no consulting charge):
• The men’s and women’s basketball programs at PSU have the potential to emerge as powerful forces in the Big Sky Conference. The Viking Pavilion is a tremendous selling point. Montana point guard Cameron Parker led the conference in assists the last two seasons. The one-time Jesuit High star bought in this week and announced he’s transferring to PSU. There’s upside here. Does PSU have the vision and guts to go all-in on basketball?
• Football plays a series of lucrative payday non-conference games every season. The university can’t drop football for a variety of reasons, but its financial dependency on Bruce Barnum’s program is one of the key ones. The Vikings will be paid $500,000 to play at Washington and $435,000 to play at San Jose State next season, per documents I obtained. In 2023, PSU will play games at Oregon ($575,000) and at Wyoming ($400,000). In 2024, it has a date with Washington State ($563,000) and San Diego State ($475,000). It’s nice to generate revenue but more of that money needs to stay in the football program.
• I reached out to Portland State legend Teri Mariani this week. She was a three-sport star and later became a successful Vikings’ coach and athletic director. She’s concerned about what she sees happening. Said Mariani: “It’s got to start at the top with the president and administration buying into what sports can do… people can see what a successful athletics department does for a university.”
• Hillsboro has opened its arms to PSU. The Vikings play football, softball and soccer games there now. It’s a nice facility that will soon get $40 million in upgrades and improvements. But I’m left puzzled as to why Portland State hasn’t worked harder to find a suitable football stadium option closer to its campus. The Lincoln High football stadium project was a missed opportunity for a partnership. Better campus leadership would have recognized it and seized it.
I wrote a piece about the sobering case of Freeman Williams, a legendary PSU basketball player who died this week at the age of 65. The Vikings have some rich history. They need to ensure they have a vibrant future, too.
Johnson is 62. His contract runs through 2026. The next four years are going to be shape shifting for PSU and he feels like a one-contract hire. Johnson will spend the bulk of his early tenure fundraising and drinking from a fire hydrant. Also, being indoctrinated into the thinking of a campus that has abandoned sports.
It feels like a moment of truth has arrived for Portland State — the university. The calculus is simple: invest where the biggest opportunities sit. Warren Buffett would endorse that approach. So should PSU.
COMMUNITY COLLEGE: I recently had an interesting exchange with a sitting college football assistant about the mindset of high school recruits and their parents. Particularly the outlook of those who are fringe scholarship players.
I’ve long been a proponent of community colleges. I think there’s a place for them in the college sports eco-system. Maybe I’m biased because I attended a Junior College and played both football and baseball before going to a four-year school to play Division II college baseball.
The college football coach I spoke with told me the transfer portal isn’t just causing major college coaches a headache, it’s endangering the JC talent pool.
Said the coach: “Many of the handlers/gurus out there are steering athletes, especially QBs, away from playing JC football. It’s transfer-portal related. They’re advising them to walk-on, reclassify, or attend a post-grad school.”
A line of great NFL quarterbacks (Jeff Garcia, Aaron Rodgers, Warren Moon, Cam Newton, etc.) played for community colleges. But that was pre-transfer portal. The assistant coach I talked with said he’ll need more data and to see more outcomes to form a stronger opinion.
“I tend to tell those fringe players that the best way to get better at QB, is to actually play QB. Game reps preferably. JC football provides that option,” he said.
• Mike Jorgensen is a former Oregon quarterback who now works as a radio analyst for the university. I asked him about UO’s crowded quarterback room. Coach Dan Lanning currently has Bo Nix, Ty Thompson and Jay Butterfield as available options. Lanning will have to pick one to start the season opener vs. Georgia. But what happens to the other two?
“It’s a different age,” Jorgensen said in our interview. “That’s the talk I hear, if you settle on a No. 1 and a No. 2, is No. 3 going to be around?”
• Oregon’s spring football game is slated for Saturday at 1 p.m. The Autzen Stadium gates open at noon. I spoke with Oregon’s first-year offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham this week. It was a fantastic 1-on-1 interview. We talked about his newborn son, his offensive philosophy and his guilty-pleasure television show, “Naked and Afraid.” The interview is worth your time.
• Sara Elcano was promoted this week by Oregon State to Senior Associate AD in charge of External Operations. Elcano has been at OSU for 12 years and has done a variety of jobs inside the athletic department. This is a great hire. She replaces Zack Lassiter, who left to be the AD at Abilene Christian University.
• Washington State president Kirk Schulz emerged last week as a candidate for the Big 12 Conference commissioner job. But Phil Weiler, a WSU spokesperson, shut that down: “(Schulz) is very clear: He has absolutely no interest in the position. He is not a candidate for that position.” Schulz is smart, shrewd and goes down as a pro-sports university president. It would be a huge loss for WSU if he bolts.
• USC’s spring game is on Saturday at noon at the Los Angeles Coliseum. ESPN is carrying the game. It’s sure to be a ratings bonanza. I’ll tune in to see what Lincoln Riley and his team looks like. Washington and first-year coach Kalen DeBoer will host their spring game on April 30 at 11:30 a.m.
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I’ve asked before, and I will ask again regarding Portland State’s football venue. There’s a city owned stadium within walking distance of the campus with a robust transit system stop. I find it incredible that the current operator can’t find 6 fall Saturday afternoons to allow PSU to play where they traditionally played. I find it equally incredible the city’s (the owner’s) apparent silence on this subject.