Boone the owner
Some OSU fans are upset this morning that I referred to Boone Pickens as the OSU “owner.” I don’t know why. I’ve done it before. And it is an accurate analogy.
OSU’s athletic department is modeled, by accident or design I don’t know, after a major-league franchise. The Cowboys have an owner who funds the operation. They have a general manager (athletic director) Mike Holder who runs the department and answers to the owner. Then they have all kinds of other employees, from marketing to linebacking, who do their jobs.
OSU fans want to know how that’s different from the Gaylords, who own the Oklahoman, giving money to OU athletics, which they have over the years in significant totals, though not as much as Pickens. Here’s the difference, and it applies to almost every other major benefactor I know of, although there could be exceptions.
No one else has immersed themselves in the decision-making like Pickens has at OSU. Pickens has his hand-picked man, Holder, in place as athletic director. He sits in on discussions about a variety of issues, from where to play games to how to deal with player discipline issues. That doesn’t happen with most big boosters, not that anyone else qualifies as booster in Pickens’ class. Not even Phil Knight, much less the Gaylords or Texas’ Tom Hicks or any other big donor, has drawn the national attention that Pickens has, because of his donations (over $200 million headed toward $300 million) and his involvement.
Pickens himself told this story in September. He said he was talking to Florida coach Urban Meyer and asked Meyer what Pickens personally could do, in addition to finances, to help the OSU football program. Meyer told Pickens to be at every game and let the team see him.
Interesting, I thought. I don’t know why Russell Okung and Dez Bryant would get a charge from seeing Pickens, but Urban Meyer thought so, and Pickens agreed with him. That’s why Pickens said he has made it a point to be at every game, home and road, and not be incognito.
That’s the prime example of the owner/team relationship in major-league sports. That’s why I call Pickens the OSU owner. And I’ve never said it’s a bad thing. I’ve always said that Pickens’ money is absolutely essential to OSU athletics, that without his donations, the Cowboys would be hard-pressed to compete with the schools they are asked to compete against.
Is that a little unseemly? No doubt. But this isn’t a perfect world. In a perfect world, Texas’ athletic budget wouldn’t be $70 million more than Iowa State’s. OU’s athletic budget wouldn’t be $30 million more than OSU’s. But the world’s not perfect. Big donations help to make for the uneven playing field, and Pickens’ donations help to level it back.
This is nothing new in academia. Some big donors want a say in how things are run on college campuses. The difference in Pickens is twofold: 1. It’s athletics, so the magnification is much brighter; and 2. His involvement is more comprehensive. To his credit, Pickens doesn’t hide his status.
He’s the owner. He’s proud of it. You might not like it, you might not like people pointing it out, but OSU really doesn’t have a better option.
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