When the Big 12 Conference was in its infant stages, Boone Pickens looked at the layout of the conference and wondered how long it would last.
The energy billionaire and OSU alum would join Holder on the golf course and on quail hunts, then they would spend several evening hours discussing life. The discussion often turned to OSU and the need to make Cowboy football a legitimate contender on a yearly basis, in part because Pickens was concerned OSU would be left behind if the Big 12 ever broke up.
“We have to figure out how to make ourselves competitive to the point we won't be the ones that are dropped out,” Pickens told Holder.
Already a school with winning traditions in several sports, Pickens and Holder were perplexed about the Pokes' struggles in football.
The duo understood football success — or lack thereof — can have a huge impact on the general perception of a school and its athletic programs. In order to increase OSU's national appeal, the football program would have to become a driving force.
“Rightly or wrongly, a lot of graduates' pride is associated with the success of our football team,” Holder said.
Pickens' initial gift of $165 million sparked the OSU alumni base, spurred other donations and ignited general excitement around the football program.
“A big concern for me was I wouldn't have the support of the alums,” Pickens said. “That they would say, ‘Well, Boone's got all this money, let him do it.' I am overwhelmed with the support we have gotten from the alums. That's one thing that is greater than I thought. I thought it would take longer to build the support.”
The boost in the overall support of the program, sparked by Pickens' gift, has helped OSU football become highly regarded on the national and regional level — evidenced by the Pokes' 22 television appearances in the past two seasons.
Pickens wanted to transform the football program into a valuable entity.
And he's achieved that goal.
“He changed the whole culture and mindset around here,” Holder said. “What's happened is inspirational. People believe just about anything is possible now.”
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With Holder rewarding his trust and the Pokes becoming a valuable asset on the college football landscape, Pickens remains committed to making Cowboy football an national championship contender every year.
“I tell people at Oklahoma State University, as long as Boone Pickens is drawing a breath, good things are going to happen for us,” Holder said of Pickens, who has given over $500 million to the university. “Because he's 100 percent committed to making a difference... and not just in athletics, throughout the whole university.”
OSU will enter the 2011 season with the talent to compete for a Big 12 Championship and the national prestige to rank among the nation's top teams.
While he never had a year-by-year goal as a blueprint to track OSU's success, Pickens is happy with the results.
“I think I've gotten my money's worth,” he said. “And there's a lot more to come. OSU is growing and getting stronger. We have made the commitment.”