Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Paying the Piper

Quiz time here at the JSM blog!

No sooner had Kansas coach Bill Self cut down the nets on the Jayhawks recent NCAA championship than speculation began he might be interested in another job. Why is the speculation so rampant?

a) Oklahoma State currently needs a head basketball coach
b) Self is an Oklahoma State graduate with strong ties to the school
c) OSU donor T. Boone Pickens is throwing around money like party confetti
d) all of the above, but mostly c)

Pencils down, and the answer is ... d). There are a lot of reasons Self might return to his alma mater, but it's hard to ignore the millions Pickens will undoubtedly pony up to bring the OSU program into national prominence. Billionaire alumnus Pickens already has already given the OSU program more than $150 million, and his deep pockets apparently have no limits when it comes to helping his beloved Cowboys.

But Pickens' largesse raises several interesting issues, most notably conflict of interest. Like any smart businessman Pickens expects some kind of return on his investment and probably wants some say on how the money is spent. Do big-money donors like Pickens and Oregon's Phil Knight have too much power in terms of how college athletic departments operate? OSU named its stadium for Pickens, but that would hardly seem to placate a high rollling operator who expects quick results.

It will be interesting to see how much, if any, input Pickens has in the OSU basketball coaching search. Self would be wise to realize that if he makes the jump he may be more accountable to Pickens than to the university. No athletic department in the country would turn down an alumnus who wants to donate millions of dollars, but there has to be limits. If not, then college athletics will become like the professional ranks and those schools with the biggest donors will be the biggest winners (say what you want about the current situation, but if results were based on alumni donations Harvard would win the national championship every year).

One good thing about Pickens--he didn't get involved in uniform design like Knight and Nike did at Oregon. The result may be the worst football uniforms ever made. Oregon could bring back some measure of control, not to mention dignity, by telling Knight thanks, but no thanks.


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