PORTLAND, Ore. (Jan. 14,2022) – Collegiate Consulting was retained by Portland State University in May 2021 to conduct an Intercollegiate Athletic Review. The objective of the 483-page study was a comprehensive review and assessment of PSU athletics department and present recommendations for the future of athletics.
Over the course of eight weeks, Collegiate Consulting interviewed more than 125 stakeholders in focus groups or individual conversations; these cohorts included administrators, coaches, professors, alumni, community leaders, business owners, donors, student-athletes and non-student-athletes, including a focus group of 2020 freshmen who had yet to be in-person on-campus due to COVID-19.
As a physical visit was prohibited due to COVID-19, the interviews allowed Collegiate Consulting to get a sense of the PSU campus culture, dynamics, and challenges over the years, especially with attitudes towards intercollegiate athletics. Feedback was consistent, that a gap has existed between the institution and the athletic department since the move to Division I and Big Sky in 1996. Feedback demonstrated a large portion of the student body indicating a prioritized emphasis on academics as juxtaposed to the need of support for athletics. In contrast, substantial alumni and community leaders showed encouraging enthusiasm for the unification of PSU’s academic success and athletic potential.
Additionally with support from PSU, Collegiate Consulting released two surveys. The first was distributed to the 26,012-member student body, and the second to more than 70,000 alumni/donors. The student survey had 955 responses, while the external stakeholder survey garnered 1,529 participants. A large part of the student responses expressed a preference for the academic excellence of Portland State, rather than utilization of financial resources for intercollegiate athletics. The feedback is in alignment with academically strong urban institutions which have a large commuter population.
The benchmarking portion of the study compared PSU to its peers in the Big Sky Conference; the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and Great Northwest Athletic Conference, which was part of the Division II and Division III analysis. Comprehensive elements of analysis included total athletic and sports operating budgets, sports sponsorship, institutional comparisons, athletic success, academic success, staffing, salaries, sources of revenue and scholarships as a sampling of data comparisons.
Within the Big Sky, Portland State spends the least amount for its men’s sports programs. Conversely, with the exception of women’s basketball, PSU women’s operating budgets rank in the top-third of the Big Sky.
When measuring student-athlete Graduation Success Rate, Portland State ranks favorably in the conference, with the men’s programs ranking fourth in the conference and the women’s teams ranking second. Across both men’s and women’s sports, PSU has four programs with perfect scores.
In FY2020, PSU’s $15.3 million budget ranked eighth in the Big Sky and nearly $4 million below the conference average. The coaching staff size and salaries are within the Big Sky average, however, PSU’s administrative staffing and salaries rank below their conference peers.
On average, 23%, or $4.5 million, of the Big Sky’s member-institutions sources of revenue comes from external sources (ticket sales, guarantees, contributions, corporate sponsorship, concessions). Portland State’s external revenue, $2.6 million, makes up 17.4% of athletic revenue.
The Big Sky institutions have average enrollment of 19,524 and athletic student fees of $2.9 million, an average of $147.21 per-student for athletic fees. When comparing Portland State to this average, it has a higher enrollment (26,012) and ranks fourth in the conference. Portland State’s total student fee allocation is second highest in the conference, comprising 24.4% of PSU’s athletic budget, however, the per-student average of $141.04 ranks fifth in the conference.
The Knight Commission groups institutional support and government support into a single category. From this dataset, the average total budget for Big Sky institutions is $331 million. Of this, an average of $10.52 million, or 3.43%, is spent on its intercollegiate athletic program. Portland State ranks third in Big Sky institutional expenses at $438 million and allocates 1.73% of its total budget to intercollegiate athletics. PSU is the only conference member to allocate less than 2% of its institutional budget to athletics.
Collegiate Consulting developed a six-year pro forma with a focus on increasing external revenue, setting forth specific goals for men’s basketball and football, with emphasis on staffing PSU management of outsourced ticket sales and corporate sponsorships. Additionally, pro formas were developed for the various athletic scenarios – DII, DIII and sport reduction.
After extensive interviews, research and benchmarking, Collegiate Consulting’s recommendations emphasized components in two different categories: internal/campus and external/aspirant. While several items may fall under both umbrellas, the first priority is the development of an athletics strategic plan, which based on data and interviews has not been done since the move to Division I. It will be imperative for PSU to develop a clear vision with substantive and definable goals across athletics for each department and sports team.
External or forward-looking recommendations included expanding advancement’s role in athletics with increased staffing and revenue goals and the PSU Foundation to continue to diligently repair existing relationships and develop new relationships with alumni and donors. Analysis conducted on the option of reclassifying to Division II or III was conducted and Collegiate Consulting does not recommend this, due to concerns with obtaining conference membership, lack of football schools in Pacific Northwest and significant loss of external revenue streams.
In addition to a strategic plan, internal recommendations were to develop annual review protocols for substantive evaluations, strategic installation of student-athlete compliance and wellness programs, in addition to a plan for a strengthened cross-campus relationship to bridge the athletic-institutional divide. Centralized messaging and communication of the department’s vision was strongly encouraged with detailed guidelines from Collegiate Consulting. Specific additional athletic administrative staffing positions were recommended, with a focus on external revenue generating positions.
The first draft of the report was presented to the institution by Collegiate Consulting the first week of August. The Board of Trustees, senior institutional leadership and the Athletics Future Committee (AFC) have taken time to consider, review and discuss the report and its findings.