Concordia decision to close comes as 'shock' to athletics
Athletes, coaches and athletic department staff at Concordia University got the shocking and distressing news first thing Monday morning: The Northeast Portland school, founded in 1905, will close after this spring semester.
After the baseball, softball, golf and track and field seasons, the Cavaliers' athletic programs will be no more, and the NCAA Division II Great Northwest Athletic Conference will lose one of its 11 full-time member schools.
A 9 a.m. Monday meeting at the adjacent St. Michael's Lutheran Church is where Concordia's interim president Thomas Ries and a Board of Regents representative broke the news to university staff, faculty and administration. Students were informed at a 10 a.m. meeting, and the press release announcing the upcoming closure was sent out shortly before 10:30 a.m.
"It's shock at this point, and a little disbelief," said Evan O'Kelly, Concordia's sports information director. "We're just trying to stay oriented and focused on the task at hand and on continuing to do our jobs. It's difficult — you don't ever plan for something like this. You just want to do the best job you can with the time you have left and support the athletes. The key thing is we've all got to support each other through this."
All Concordia teams will compete as scheduled through spring, including for any postseason action. While commencements are set for April 25 (and May 2 for the School of Law), the Cavaliers could play in one sport or another into at least late May, with the NCAA D-II track and field championships, for example, slated for May 21-23 at Kingsville, Texas.
Athletes will have to look for new schools and teams and transfer opportunities.
Concordia has had a major presence in the community and local sports scene for decades. The school was a highly successful NAIA member in the Cascade Collegiate Conference for years before moving up to NCAA D-II in 2014. The Cavaliers had developed competitive and successful programs in numerous sports in D-II, notably winning the GNAC women's soccer championship in 2018 and advancing various track and field athletes to national prominence.
"I'm shocked and devastated," said Brad Barbarick, who spent 26 years there, 25 as men's basketball coach, before his departure after last season. He is now athletic director at Portland Community College.
Barbarick said his phone has been blowing up with calls from former players asking about the news.
"I'm just so sad and heartbroken for so many people," Barbarick said. "So many lives are affected by this decision. My heart bleeds for all of those people."
Concordia competes in 15 of the GNAC's 17 sports, all but football and women's rowing. The school has some impressive athletic facilities that include the cornerstone Hilken Community Stadium for soccer (Tuominen Yard), baseball and softball (Porter Park) and football and the Concordia Throw Center two miles off campus. Various other schools and clubs, including the Portland Interscholastic League and Central Catholic High, have used the Concordia fields or throw center.
The GNAC has made Concordia the site for league tournament play in soccer, baseball and softball.
"It's been a great place for us to host conference championships," said Blake Timm, GNAC assistant commissioner.
Concordia's departure will leave the GNAC with only one school in Oregon — Western Oregon University in Monmouth.
Other GNAC members are Central Washington, Saint Martin's, Seattle Pacific and Western Washington in Washington, Northwest Nazarene in Idaho, Montana State Billlings, Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Fairbanks, and Simon Fraser in Burnaby, British Columbia.
GNAC athletic directors scheduled a Monday afternoon conference call to discuss the situation.
"We found out the same time as everybody else, so this was news to us," Timm said. "We are still figuring out what the next steps are going to be."
The Board of Regents' vote to cease operations came after it concluded that enrollment figures and financial issues "make it impossible to continue its educational mission," according to a Concordia press release.
The university said it will return the 24-acre campus property to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and one of its lenders, the Lutheran Church Extenson Fund. "We expect they will seek a buyer," the school said.
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