When people think of Oregon football, they most likely think Ducks and Beavers. Overshadowed by more successful neighbors to the south, the Portland State Vikings have historical been relegated the sidelines when it comes to state icons. This season’s team is setting out to change that.
Eight to two overall and 5–2 in the Big Sky Conference, the Vikings will head into their final game of the season this Saturday looking to round out one of the most successful PSU seasons in living memory.
Wins aside, the Vikings have been pulling overwhelming numbers. This year the team sold more tickets in one game than they did in all of last season’s combined.
PSU President Wim Wiewel, who has been open about his dissatisfaction with prior conditions within the athletics department, applauded PSU’s new Director of Athletics, Mark Rountree, at an Oct. 9 press conference for what he described as the new spirit of athletics.
“[The change in the athletics] absolutely stems from [Rountree],” Wiewel said. “You could also say it stems from my dissatisfaction with the way things were and that’s why I hired an athletic director who would bring a new spirit.”
“I felt that athletics was too much on its own…not really engaging with the rest of the campus,” he continued. “And then of course that becomes mutual, and we saw very few students or faculty coming to games.”
Rountree—who has been in his directorial position since January 2015—said his goal when he came to PSU was to learn the identity of the campus and integrate the athletics department into that identity.
“[O]ne of the things we can do in athletics is really be a bright light to shine on what’s going on on campus—what our students are doing, what’s going on in the colleges and schools, what our student centers are doing,” Rountree said.
Rountree identified four core values the athletics department is striving to input into its activities: fearlessness, determination, pride and togetherness.
“We’ve incorporated those values in everything we do,” Rountree said. “Our first football game, we partnered with the Women’s Resource Center to do sexual assault prevention.
The athletics department has featured various elements of the university at Vikings football games, including the school of engineering and the college of arts and sciences.
Wiewel commented on the athletics department’s engagement with campus life.
“They are really changing what they do and how they’re doing it,” Wiewel said. “They’ve got their athletes doing move-in for the freshmen. They are just getting the athletes engaged on campus, and off campus as well.”
“The other thing we did is decided that our focus is really on student success,” Rountree said.
He emphasized academic success and community engagement, which Vikings Head Coach Bruce Barnum echoed as well.
“I’ve seen the campus unite,” Barnum said. “I see students at our games, my football players—and all the other student athletes—help students.”
Barnum emphasized plans to carry the recent success of Vikings football and overall athletics into the future with continued campus and community engagement.
“The key is keeping it going,” Barnum said. “Let’s keep this rolling. They gave me a contract, a long-term contract through five years. So for the next five years, I’m just planting the seeds for what I want to see happen here at [PSU]. Not just with the football team—I think we’re just an extension of the business school, the engineering school—everything you see on campus. We’re just one little piece of that puzzle.”
This is part one of a two-part series on athletics. Stay tuned for further coverage.