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Upstart Vikings dare to play big

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A lot of people were shocked by the puny crowd Wednesday night in the Rose Garden when Portland State wrapped up its first-ever trip to the NCAA Division I basketball tournament.

The attendance was listed at 4,113 but seemed barely half that. Pundits were scolding the city for not supporting the Vikings.

But come on, let's get real here. I'm not going to take anything away from Ken Bone and his very entertaining team. His hustling bunch played hard and played well. I feel bad for the team because, really, it has been victimized by circumstances that led to the program's not being supported at the level it could have been.

First, the athletic department is strapped for cash. There's hardly any money for marketing, and the funds that were scraped together probably were used on the football program - where the most profit potential exists.

Even if there had been money to market basketball, what can be done with a team that plays in a gym that seats, at most, 1,500 fans? What are you going to do, have a 2-for-1 night? Give away bobblehead dolls to the first 200 fans?

There aren't enough seats to increase the program's fan base. And while there is a movement to expand the Stott Center, I wonder if that's, even long term, the right move.

PSU, like most universities, wants its athletic facilities on campus. But I'd make a case that at Portland State, that's the last place an arena should be.

There aren't enough students living on campus to make much of an impact on attendance. It's a commuter school, as everyone knows. And for the other fans, the campus is a nightmare to access. The maze of dead-end roads, parking meters, downtown traffic and construction have been a deterrent to going to games there for years.

On top of that, PSU plays in the Big Sky Conference - not exactly a highly respected basketball league - and doesn't have a TV contract for consistent local exposure.

Fortunately, getting to the NCAA tourney is reward enough for the players and coaches. I asked PSU point guard Jeremiah Dominguez, the Big Sky player of the year, what it was like to win the conference tournament at home, yet still see so few people there to celebrate with the team.

'This was fine,' he said with a smile. 'We started out with about nobody in the gym.'

Peter Stott, one of the university's most diligent benefactors and the man for whom the home gym is named, was asked if he'd be traveling to watch the Vikings in the tournament.

'Oh, yes,' he said, beaming.

But the contingent headed off to root for the Vikings in whatever impossible first-round matchup awaits won't number in the thousands, as it does for many schools.

'About a hundred, maybe,' Stott said.

Whatever. The hard-core group of fans and boosters at Portland State have waited a long time for this, and I wish them nothing but good luck. And more of the same in the future.

For this program to thrive, they're all going to need it.

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