Like many rootless cosmopolite elitists, I carry with me in my mind a list of the states in which I would least want to live. And in this category — despite residual affection for The Flaming Lips, Hollis Price and Bryant Reeves (before you laugh: ask yourself how good he could’ve been, if only he’d been better at basketball) — Oklahoma has long held down the top spot. This doesn’t mean I want to move to Pensacola or Salt Lake that much more, but given the choice between setting up shop in Oklahoma City and, say, Kinshasa, Zaire, I’d at least ask a couple of questions about rent, utilities, machete-crime, etc. And so of course, of course, I’m naturally skeptical of anyone who has openly courted the title of World’s Greatest Oklahoma State Fan.
And that means that I was skeptical of billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens long before he abandoned fossil fuel for his new, wind-farmtastical Pickens Plan. (Said plan honestly doesn’t sound that bad to me, but I’m just kind of disinclined to trust the dude) Pickens was just another obscure billionaire who looked like a heavily made-up Tom Wilkinson and was an ardent Bush Ranger up until a few years ago, when his debut in the public consciousness — long before he realized that all cars should run on clean national gas (he knows a guy who can get you a deal) (a guy named T. Boone Pickens, be-otch) and that wind farms (cf previous parentheses) were the way to go — came via his donation of a staggering $165 million to his alma mater, Oklahoma State. It’s a generous gift, considering that Oklahoma is the 39th-best educated state in the U.S.. It’s a less-generous gift when one considers that those moneys were dedicated entirely to the athletic department at OSU. So…
So, yeah. OSU’s football team is indeed very good this year, and the basketball program at least rid itself of melting boozemonster Eddie Sutton in 2007, but in this current economic climate, can it possibly be economically viable for anyone to donate nine-figure sums to a state school to ensure that it at least finishes second in the Big 12? CNBC’s Darren Rovell went to the source and found out, in short, that the answer is “not so much.”
Darren: In Dec. 2005, you gave the largest single donation in college history”$165 million to the Oklahoma State athletic department. You put that back into one BP Capital and by July of this year, you told me that money was up 120 percent, or to about $363 million. Where are you at now given all the market declines?
Pickens: We made money in 2006 and 2007, so this is our first year of the fund that we lost money. In the equity funds, where the OSU money is, this year has been a disaster for us and it’s going to slow down our building. Not on the (renovations to) the stadium. We’re finishing off the stadium, but it’s going to be slow going on the athletic village.
Darren: Are you still in the positive on that initial $165 million investment?
Pickens: We’re up a little bit. Not much though.
Darren: If I’m a fan of Oklahoma State and want that money to grow, what am I rooting for to happen?
Pickens: Well, 10 percent of the fund is in raw commodities and we’re either long or short oil or long or short natural gas. Then, 90 percent of the fund is in equities, the stock market. It’s a long-biased portfolio, so fans should be pulling for oil and gas equities”you know the ones that have taken the biggest hit”and they’re probably pulling for the price of oil and natural gas to go up. But not right now. We’re actually out of the market right now. So I’m not in the market. So for now, I want those prices to come down.
Darren: You said on CNBC earlier this month that 15 percent of investors that are in your BP Capital have expressed they might want to take their money out by the end of the year. Is that an option for the Oklahoma State athletic department?
Pickens: We’ve leveraged the money I donated to build. But there’s a certain point where they may have to exit the funds.
I should point out, here, that the biggest boosters of the athletic program at the Division III school I attended are probably a bunch of bankers in Los Angeles who also attended that school but whom I didn’t really know there and noted alumnus and ascot-/football-aficionado Richard Chamberlain. Unless and until R-Chamb decides to build an athletes’ village on north campus, I’m going to continue to think it’s fucked up to donate that much money to a school without any of it going towards, you know, education. But, of course, good luck on those equities/wind farms, Boone.