Following the announcement that Boone Pickens is dropping $165 million on Oklahoma State, ESPN has written a great series on the influence of powerful, wealthy boosters on college athletics. With the exchange rate $165 million will be more like $1 billion.
Several of the boosters are not household names to SEC fans, but some are as familiar as the national anthem (without the accompanying pride). Some highlights:
Phil Knight: Oregon football players are like Phil Knights’ personal dress-up dolls. Oregon practically has a different uniform for each game.
My favorite story about Phil Knight’s Nike boosterism run amok goes back to 2003 when Oregon played Mississippi State in Starkvegas. Nike gave Oregon experimental vests to stay cool. The only problem is that Mississippi State had a Nike contract too. If anyone knows cheating when he sees it, it would be Jackie Sherrill. Jackie called BS on that, and Nike eventually gave both teams the vests. Oregon won 42-34.
Don Leebern, Jr.: this is a longer post for another time, suffice it to say the Leeburn cash comes with baggage and embarassment: Exhibit A, Exhibit B, and Exhibit C. I have two comments: 1) the ESPN article correctly notes Leebern “attended” UGA. While I take some pride in the fact Leebern did not achieve a degree from my alma mater, I'm embarassed by his tenure on the Board of Regents as a non-college graduate. Why does he keep getting reappointed? Does it have anything to do with this? I could overlook a lot if Leebern's opinion of Michael Adams were lower; and 2) Don Leebern is not the least likable person on the list (although his legal wife in Columbus might disagree).
Speaking of Bobby Lowder... ESPN devoted an entire article to him that made me want to de-louse and sanitize my monitor. I knew a lot of this stuff, but even the old stuff is still jaw-dropping. I have always thought it was hysterical that Terry Bowden has a clause in his buy-out contract forbidding him from saying anything derogatory about Lowder or Auburn, lest he lose his large pile of hush-money. The ironic thing about the gag clause is the implicit acknowledgment that saying anything true about Terry's tenure and firing at the hands of Lowder is ipso facto damaging or derogatory. Literally, the truth hurts.
The student paper was hot on the trail of Lowder, but he proved an elusive target. It's analogous to Woodward & Bernstein trying to bring down an un-elected, all powerful leader like Chairman Mao. The Plainsman/Tiger/War Eagle did print a spiteful nearly blank front page story trying to poke Lowder in the eye for being, well, Bobby. Note the same day the Plainsman/Tiger/War Eagle had an article on Pat Dye’s sweetheart stock deal with Lowder’s Colonial Bank, and mentions Dye was added to the Colonial Board of Directors in 1981 when he was named head coach at Auburn.