STILLWATER — Lightning sent the Oklahoma State football team scattering a few days ago, interrupting a practice and delaying it two hours. Soon enough, August thunderstorms will give way to December cold, and the Cowboys again could be hard-pressed to get through a workout.
The completion of Boone Pickens Stadium’s guts, the opulent facilities that lift OSU from near the bottom to near the top in Big 12 digs, is cause for celebration. But no matter how plush the weight room or extravagant the locker room, the Cowboys can’t lay claim to the league’s penthouse until an indoor practice facility is constructed. Especially since it should already have been completed. In January 2007, donor Sherman Smith gave $20 million for an indoor facility. That $20 million ballooned, then disappeared, in Pickens’ hedge fund, and now OSU waits for better financial days to build what most schools consider a necessity, not a luxury. "No question we need an indoor facility,” said football coach Mike Gundy. "We lose practices.” Gundy said OSU gets about 14 or 15 practices between the end of the regular season and a bowl game. Ten of those practices are in Stillwater. "We’ve been in frigid conditions,” Gundy said. "Try practicing in 10 degrees. We never say a word about it, but practices are not good. Everybody’s bundled up, wearing gloves. We gotta find a way to get it done.” OSU had a way: Smith’s $20 million and the Pickens surplus. Pickens’ $165 million donation in January 2006 grew to around $300 million by spring 2008, according to Pickens himself. But OSU got greedy. If the hedge fund could reach $300 million, why not $400 million? Why not half a billion? So while the football stadium was being built, the rest of the money sat. And you know what happened next. The American economy went into free fall, the hedge fund collapsed even more quickly than it grew and by last October OSU did not have enough left to even finish the stadium project, needing another donation from Pickens to keep things on schedule. I’m not an economist. I know more about hedgehogs than I do hedge funds. But I know when someone gives $20 million for an indoor facility, an indoor facility ought to be built.