SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Neither Boone Pickens nor Phil Knight played college football. But you can’t have a discussion about either man without eventually turning to the sport. No donor in all of college football is as connected to his university as Knight to Oregon and Pickens to Oklahoma State.
Together, they’ve given more than half-a-billion dollars to their universities, mostly to the football programs. And though Pickens and Knight are similarly linked for their donations, the corresponding qualities of the two men seem to end with their big bank accounts and strong devotion to their schools, which will meet Tuesday night at 7 in the Holiday Bowl. "I think his friends would characterize him as being reasonably shy,” Oregon athletics director Pat Kilkenny said. "He just does not want to be up front.” Knight, who in 2004 resigned as the CEO of Nike, a company he co-founded, rarely grants media requests, instead preferring to avoid the spotlight. "Phil has, I think, attended two media events in all the years he’s been involved,” Kilkenny said. Pickens might be more accurately described as an extrovert, and he certainly doesn’t hide from cameras or media opportunities. Earlier this year, he conducted an interview from the sidelines minutes before OSU played Texas. And he routinely appears on news networks to promote his energy solutions or to talk about other political topics. Like Pickens and OSU athletics director Mike Holder, Knight and Kilkenny are close friends. But in line with their personalities, the two have varying degrees of involvement with the universities, and particularly the football programs. "I think (Pickens) is involved now more than he ever has been,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "He and I talk once every three weeks or so. We don’t talk a whole lot. If I was smarter, I’d probably talk to him more.” Though Knight stays closely connected to the Ducks football team, he remains detached from the Oregon athletic department in a day-to-day perspective.