T Boone Pickens donates record $165 million to Oklahoma State University

Monday, January 9th 2006, 5:15 pm
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ Billionaire alumnus Boone Pickens announced Tuesday he will donate $165 million to help Oklahoma State toward its goal of creating an athletic village north of the football stadium that already bears his name.

Pickens' donation _ the largest single gift ever given to an NCAA collegiate athletic program _ will go toward completing the upgrade of Boone Pickens Stadium and fund changes included in a proposed 20-year master plan yet to be approved by university regents. The plan includes an indoor practice facility for football, baseball, track and other sports as well as upgraded facilities for upgraded facilities for track, tennis and soccer.

The plan, with an estimated cost exceeding $700 million, also calls for a new research building, a new classroom building and updates to other academic facilities.

The athletic village would be built on about 24 blocks of property north of the football and basketball stadiums that the university is working to acquire.

``This isn't just about football or basketball or our major sports,'' athletic director Mike Holder said. ``It's about every sport, giving every coach here and every athlete here the opportunity to strive for excellence.''

The amount surpasses the $100 million Las Vegas casino owner Ralph Engelstad gave the University of North Dakota in 1998 in terms of the largest gift.

Only half of the gift from Engelstad, a former North Dakota hockey goalie, was initially intended to build the hockey arena which bears his name, but the project eventually consumed the entire gift.

Pickens, who earned a degree in geology from Oklahoma State in 1951, also made the largest previous donation in university history. In 2003, the Texas oil tycoon pledged $70 million to Oklahoma State, including $20 million to kick-start a campaign to expand the university's football stadium with new luxury boxes, additional seating and amenities for fans and a bowled in west end zone.

Construction on the south side of the stadium was completed last season, and the $102 million project is continuing with work on the north side. Pickens' gift will help fund the final of three phases will bowl in the west end zone and raise the stadium's capacity to 53,000.

At the time of his $70 million gift, Pickens said it wouldn't be the last time he gave to Oklahoma State. ``And this won't be the last gift,'' he said Tuesday.

``What I keep coming back to is we're in the Big 12 and it's a tough conference. I want us to be competitive,'' Pickens added. ``How it impacts me? My name's on the stadium. I don't know what else they could do. I guess they could put it on each one of the seats.''

In total, he's donated more than $290 million, including funding of the Boone Pickens School of Geology and contributions to numerous endowments for scholarships, fellowships and professorships.

The 77-year-old donated more than $30 million to the athletic village project in December. Before that, he split the $3 million cost of new synthetic turf with a business partner, Sherman Smith.

``It'll impact the whole university,'' Oklahoma State President David Schmidly said. ``It'll make it easier for us to recruit students, it'll help us recruit faculty. Every aspect of the university is going to benefit from this.''

``What's so great about this gift is we had identified much of the money we needed to upgrade our academic facilities, we've identified much of the money we needed to upgrade campus life and our infrastructure facilities, but we had not identified the money to build out the athletic side of it and that can be the hardest money to get.''

Pickens, a Holdenville native, has said he grew up cheering for the University of Oklahoma until Oklahoma A&M, which would eventually change its name to Oklahoma State, beat the Sooners 47-0 in a 1945 football game. After graduating from OSU, he went on to found Mesa Petroleum and eventually build it into a top natural gas and oil company.

He gained fame in the 1980s by attempting takeovers of several major oil companies and is now the chairman of BP Capital, an investment group.

He was listed in a tie for 207th on Forbes' list of the 400 richest Americans last year with a net worth of $1.5 billion.