PULLMAN – As the Washington State football team celebrates its second year in its $60 million multi-purpose facility and the ink dries on Alaska Airlines’ agreement to pay Washington $41 million for the right to name its field, another Pacific Northwest program struggles to foot much smaller bills.
Portland State travels on a budget and plays above its weight class as often as possible to fulfill president Wim Wiewel’s mandate that the program cover its approximately $3.5 million budget.
So that means buses instead of flights, going home immediately after games and traveling to play an opponent in Washington State that has every advantage in exchange for a $525,000 payday.
Nigel Burton was the coach in 2014 when Wiewel informed the program it would no longer receive $800,000 from the PSU general fund. Burton was fired after a 3-9 season and is now an analyst with the Pac-12 Networks.
“It’s just one of those things where, I think what they’re trying to figure out is how committed do they really want to be not just to football, but to athletics in general,” Burton said. “I think are a lot of different things pulling them in a lot of different directions and the university is growing in so many facets that aren’t necessarily athletics, so it’s prioritization. So at least while I was there, I wasn’t sure we were a priority at the time.”
For one, a $5 million lawsuit by former player Josh Whalen against the school, NCAA and Oregon Health and Science University claims that he was not treated properly after a concussion hangs over the university.
Also, because the Vikings struggle to draw 6,000 fans to home games, PSU must settle for some “money games”: a payday from an FBS school to play at their stadium. So, Saturday’s game is a transaction, money for a win. If it wasn’t the Cougars, who are 45-2 against current Big Sky teams, wouldn’t be paying to host the Vikings.
But strange things happen: In 2013, seven FCS schools upset opponents who paid a combined $2.3 million for the losses. Win or lose the Vikings will win on Saturday by keeping their program afloat another year.
“Maybe we didn’t win as many as we wanted to but,” Burton said. “But given the circumstances, I’m pretty proud of what we did there.”
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