Billionaire booster Pickens gives $63M more to Oklahoma State

Updated: October 27, 2008, 7:14 PM ET
Associated Press

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Billionaire booster T. Boone Pickens will give another $63 million in cash to Oklahoma State to finish the renovation of the football stadium that bears his name, but the future of other athletic projects he'd intended to fund is in doubt because of the economic downturn.

Pickens announced his latest in a line of gifts to his alma mater Monday and also said he would be returning to the school the $125 million that remained from its investment in a hedge fund he'd been managing since donating a record-breaking $165 million to the university in January 2006.

That donation was the largest gift to a college athletic program. He intended to grow it through his investments so it would pay for renovations and new construction on the school's campus estimated to cost $420 million at the time.

That plan was going smoothly until Pickens' BP Capital energy fund encountered big financial trouble in recent months.

Athletic director Mike Holder said the fund hit its apex at $407 million in July but the plummeting economy resulted in the $282 million loss. Pickens will no longer be managing the money he donated to Oklahoma State.

Holder said there was no set amount that Oklahoma State aimed to reach before cashing out and laughingly said they "were thinking about a billion."

"You never have the ability to look forward. Looking back, would we have done things differently? Absolutely, but we don't have the luxury of hindsight," Holder said.

"It's pretty amazing that we got from zero to $407 million in 2½ years."

Holder said Pickens' largest gift was preceded by another $6 million gift weeks earlier. He combined that with another $31 million Holder accumulated in a fund for the university's highly successful golf program to give the department $202 million for its proposed athletic village.

The project would include new facilities for the baseball, softball, tennis and equestrian programs and a joint complex for the soccer and track teams, in addition to an indoor practice facility that the football team would share with other sports.

The entire project was to be completed by 2011, and all but the baseball stadium were scheduled to be done by next year. An area of several city blocks has been cleared to make room for the construction, but all the projects are on hold until there's enough money.

"We won't be seeing anything happening out there until the economy comes around," Holder said.

Instead, Holder said Pickens' money is simply aimed at completing the renovation of the football stadium's west end zone -- which includes building a new locker room, training areas, weight room and commissary -- before the 2009 football season starts.

The stadium's north and south stands have already been renovated with new luxury suites and a press box, and the seating bowl in the west end is also done.

"I know we'll have our hands full with the west end zone. This is about finishing what we started," Holder said. "We made a commitment to our football program that we'd give them the facilities necessary to compete at the highest level of the Big 12 Conference and we intend to honor that commitment."

Pickens' donations have led to a boom in Oklahoma State football. The team is ranked in the top 10 -- at No. 9 this week -- for the first time since Barry Sanders' Heisman Trophy season in 1988.

The Cowboys (7-1) lost at No. 1 Texas on Saturday for their first defeat this season. Still, with a win this Saturday against Iowa State, Oklahoma State would be 8-1 or better through nine games for only the third time in school history.

"I think we have good people here that have good substance and they're very solid and they're going to work hard, and now we have some added advantages that we've never had," Gundy said. "It would have never happened without him. There's just no way. It couldn't happen."

Holder said it had been difficult to put a price tag on the athletic village project because of rising steel and labor costs. He said he was told at the outset that the west end zone project would cost no more than $90 million. Now, he's hoping that the $188 million combined between Pickens' gift and the remainder of the investment will pay it off.

After the stadium, Holder said the next priority would be to build the indoor facility because the most sports would benefit from it and because another donor, Sherman Smith, made a $20 million gift with the promise it would be built.

"Sure, this is a tough time but I have no question that he'll be back and we'll be back," Holder said. "It's just a matter of when. Not if, but when. He's probably coming up with some ideas today about how to make money."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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