16.8.06

STARTING YOUR OWN UNIVERSITY. Oklahoma State University is going to have the best football team T. Boone Pickens can buy.

“If you follow the argument that facilities attract recruits, obviously this is a quantum leap forward for Oklahoma State,” says Chuck Neinas, the former Big Eight commissioner and College Football Association executive director.

“Money doesn't buy happiness, and it can't necessarily buy victories. But it certainly creates a platform to develop a program.”

Gundy and his staff hit recruiting pay dirt last winter, signing a class that by most assessments ranked among the nation's 20 best. He says the facilities promised by Pickens' gift were a factor.

There remains a gap between Oklahoma State and much of the rest of the Big 12 in operational spending on such necessities as equipment, travel, recruiting, salaries and scholarships.

OSU typically ranks ninth in the conference, and the roughly $8.5 million it spent on football last year was dwarfed by Texas' $15.5 million outlay en route to the national title, according to figures provided by the schools. With facilities covered, however, other donors can kick into those other areas, particularly scholarships.

“It was obvious to me and everyone else associated with OSU that we'd been playing with a short stick forever and someone needed to do something unprecedented to change the paradigm around here,” Holder says. “All we've done for decades is just talk. Finally, there's more than just talk.”

It's a $165 million bounce that Schmidly says is being felt beyond the university's playing fields and courts. “I'm getting ready to do a huge campaign for student scholarships,” the OSU president says, “and I can go to donors and say, ‘Look what Boone did to help us with athletics. Can you help us with academics?' So it's made my job a hell of lot easier.

“And let's face it. This is America. People like to be associated with winners. They like to be associated with things that are on the upswing, and this institution is on the upswing. In many ways, Boone gave us that momentum.”

We shall see. I don't recall anybody faulting the economics program at Northwestern when its football team went 0-for-the-1980s, and the Nobel committees recognized Wisconsin faculty despite frustrated football fans saying "hurry up, November." The football visibility has not hurt Northern Illinois, although my colleagues were doing their best when the football team was going 0-for-the-1990s.

A sidebar lists other large individual donations to institutions of higher learning, including two donations to establish new universities from scratch.

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