Oregonian columnist John Canzano is often mocked by his detractors (generally speaking, I am not one) when he goes all Rick-Reilly-meets-Dave-Zirin and writes, for example, about the Juarez murders during Oregon State’s Sun Bowl visit. He has also, for better or worse, been the guy most associated with holding the “Jail Blazers” accountable (or unfairly tarring them as bad actors, depending how you look at it).

So it was sort of surprising to me to see this little dismissive tangent in the comments section of his most recent column about Portland State, after someone noted that the Vikings helped bring up the rear of the latest University of Central Florida report on tournament team graduation rates.

(REPLY FROM JC: The manner in which grad rates are measured is inherently skewed against the mid-majors or commuter campuses that will take second chance or higher risk student athletes. I’m shocked PSU isn’t last.)

This is a familar argument (see also: John Chaney) that has a lot of truth to it, but isn’t this exactly the sort of subject that should rate one of those “socially conscious” columns at a time when everybody else is doing game previews and human interest?

For example, how does Binghamton and Robert Morris and Utah State and Western Kentucky graduate 100% while PSU is 17%? And isn’t the fact that Portland State is one of just 7 tournament teams that will face NCAA penalties for its substandard APR, well… news? (three straight substandard APRs can get you booted from postseason play).

To be fair, PSU’s graduation rate last year was 43% – in basketball, where a graduating class can be just two or three students, numbers definitely don’t tell the whole story – but they do still tell a story. It’s also interesting to note that in the current study, PSU had a 50% graduation rate for African-American players but a 10% graduation rate for white players – most schools trend the other way.

Btw, this blog may have been the first to suggest PSU as a first round winner. It certainly hasn’t been the last, but I’m not too convinced. Neither are the sports books, which has Xavier as a 10 1/2 point favorite (for that, I sure do like the Vikings). Xavier’s coming off two recent losses, but they were both basicallly meaningless, the last one coming against an underrated Temple team in front of a Philly-partisan crowd. And while I always hesitate to read too much into conference comparisons, Big Sky regular season champion Weber State, which beat the Vikings by double digits both home and away, just got eviscerated by San Diego State in the NIT.

One thing’s for sure, Portland’s ostensible proximity to Boise won’t work against the Muskies… or so PSU coach Ken Bone told the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“Our gym seats 1,400 people. We don’t fill it up. We had two sellouts this year.”

Last year in Omaha, when we played Kansas in the NCAA Tournament, we had no more than 25 fans there. Hopefully this year we’ll get 40 to 50. Maybe a couple parents…my wife and three daughters will be there. That’s about it.”

It’s true. I lived walking distance from their arena for three years and am ashamed to say I never went to a game; they are sixth fiddle in Portland behind the Blazers, Oregon, Oregon State, the Winter Hawks and the University of Portland (which at least draws when Gonzaga comes to town). There are of course, advantages to such anonymity – unless, that is, CBS is currently working on a moving halftime story about what a difficult, character-building experience it was for Jeremiah Dominguez to be falsely accused of assault while on spring break last year.

Update: Today Portland State abolished its men’s wrestling team. From the university’s own press release:

The program has not achieved an appropriate academic progress rate (APR) as mandated by the NCAA. In fact, two years of excellent APR scores by the wrestling program will still not be sufficient to avoid penalties severe enough to impact Portland State™s entire athletics program, including its Division I status.