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A Bone to Pick With Boone

Sept. 11, 2006
Sept. 11, 2006

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Sept. 11, 2006

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SI Players: Life On and Off the Field
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A Bone to Pick With Boone

At Oklahoma State,they're feeling luckier than a fat man locked inside a Hostess factory. That'sbecause the World's Biggest Booster-T. Boone Pickens-wrote them the sweetestcheck in the history of the NCAA: $165 million.

This is an article from the Sept. 11, 2006 issue

It will go mostlyfor the two biggest sports in Stillwater: football and football practicing. OSUcan finally spruce up Boone Pickens Stadium (it's been almost two years sincePickens paid for the last improvements) and redo the outdoor practice field andbuild a $50 million practice bubble. The rest will go to some other piddlystuff to keep the liberal-arts majors happy-tennis, baseball, track, field,equestrian and soccer.

(Like Pickens isever going to a soccer game. He'd vote for Hillary first.)

All told, since itwas built, Oklahoma State will have spent almost half a billion bones on itsstadium, which is about what it would cost to build the Taj Mahal, which, ifI'm understanding this right, doesn't even have bleachers.

Of course, youmight be saying to yourself, With all the suffering in the world, doesn'tPickens have better things to do with his cash than give it to a footballteam?

To which any OSUfan might say: Well, we went 4-7 last season. Isn't that suffering?

Some buzzkillerspoint out that Pickens doesn't have to look much beyond Stillwater to findneeds greater than a new massage table for the locker room. Oklahoma ranks inthe bottom third of all states in infant death, child health insurance coverageand child neglect. And one out of seven Oklahomans is at risk of goinghungry.

But if you want totalk hungry, how about this: Oklahoma State has had only one Big Eight or Big12 football title in the last 50 years. A little winning might just hit thespot.

"We're goin'to go to that BCS championship game one day," vows Pickens (OSU '51)."And we're goin' to keep on goin'."

It's a very badidea to bet against Pickens. When he was born in Holdenville, Okla., he was thefirst C-section performed in the town's history. Just try to keep him out ofsomething. When he's asked why he gave all that money to football, he says,"'Cause I want to. That's the blood, guts and feathers of it."

Besides, Pickenshas given away a fortune to nonfootball causes: Texas Scottish Rite Hospitalfor Children in his hometown of Dallas ($8 million), Katrina victims ($7million), UT Southwestern Medical Center ($2 million) and the T. Boone PickensSchool of Geology at Oklahoma State ($1 million), to name a few. But this lastcheck makes those look like Monopoly money.

"I saw anurgent situation that needed big dollars," Pickens says. "And I steppedup to it."

O.K., so maybeyour definition of urgent runs more along the lines of famine, tsunamis anddisease, but good luck changing Pickens's mind. It's like talking to ahurricane. This is the infamous corporate raider who tried to buy Gulf Oilwithout Gulf Oil wanting him to and wound up with a silo of money.

Pickens, 78, islarger than life. This summer a freshman defensive end was coming off the fieldwhen he was introduced to the great man. The kid's eyes went wide as spaghettiplates. "Oh my God!" the kid said. "I thought you weredead!"

Maybe a few wishedhe were when this recent donation hit, because it's going to mean that about250 families will have to be relocated to make room for the new, colossalathletic complex. But, hey, it's not like Oklahoma State doesn't have a heart.The university is paying people a $300 bonus for every year they lived in theirhouse before the bulldozers come. Sure, Aunt Ida, you've been forced out of thehome you raised your kids in, but won't that $6,000 be nice?

Some people thinkthey ought to name the whole school after Pickens. Boone Pickens University.Well why not? He's handpicked the athletic director, the football coach,everything up to the curtains in the suites. Plus, all the money he donates tothe school goes straight back into his wildly successful BP Capital energyhedge fund. Which means he gives the money with one hand, manages it with theother and decides how to spend it with, I don't know, his teeth?

Robert Darcy, apoli-sci professor at Oklahoma State, says the tail is not just wagging thedog, it's swinging the dog around like a lasso. "We have [school]departments in basements, dorms, attics and condemned buildings," Darcysays. "This university is underfunded in every imaginable way. And yet theonly concern here continues to be football."

O.K. So what'syour point?

• If you have acomment for Rick Reilly, send it to reilly@siletters.com.

RIFFS of REILLY

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With all
the needs in the world,
doesn't T. Boone Pickens have better things to do with$165 million than give it to the Oklahoma State football team?
PHOTOPETER READ MILLER