We broached the idea that a school - whether Rutgers or Nebraska or anyone else - might have a limit to its success. But it seems that isn't the case any more at Oregon.
Phil Knight, founder of Nike, attended the University of Oregon.
Kevin Plank, of Under Armour fame, attended Maryland.
T. Boone Pickens graduated from Oklahoma State.
Rutgers has Marc Louis Milecofsky.
You may know him better as Marc Ecko, the founder and brains behind eckō UNLTD. Yeah, that guy.
The story goes that Ecko entered Rutgers School of Pharmacy, but was more interested in drawing. Supposedly, the dean told him to take a year off and pursue his dream. "You don’t want to be 40 with regrets," the dean said. Well, he's now 42 and still lives in New Jersey with a net worth of $100 million. Anybody at the Rutgers Foundation got his number?
As a comparison, Greg Brown, CEO of Motorola Solutions and Chairman of the RU Board of Governors, is a major athletic contributor. His net worth is around $23 million. And Ralph Izzo, another member of the BoG (who received his MBA from Rutgers) is worth $11.4 million.
Are there people out there ready and willing to give the kind of money to Rutgers that Knight, Pickens, and Plank have given to their respective schools? And is that the ultimate answer? After Rutgers topped Maryland to end the season, the hand-wringing in College Park was apocalyptic in nature. But a couple of comments on Testudo Times jumped out at me:
we do not have the facilities, location, donors, and coaches that top programs do. Some kids want to stay home and kids want to get away. PG county isn’t exactly a desirable destination when these kids can go to Florida, California, etc. But some of the top programs aren’t located in great locations Ohio St., Notre Dame, Oregon, etc. So it is doable. We just need to get all aspects of our program at least on par with top programs or else we will never BE a top program.
The addition of the new football facilities should help greatly, now we only need a coaching staff that can meet the high level of expectation this program should have going forward.
A need for better facilities and better donors? At Maryland? And then there's this one:
MD alumni donations are pathetic
People love to whine about having mediocre football/basketball programs, but how many of them can’t even find $50/year to donate to the Terrapin Club?
You want to win in revenue sports? Open your wallet and stop counting on Kevin Plank [emphasis added] to pay for everything.
Even having a golden goose may not be enough. You can have the money, but there needs to be something more. And that brings us to.....
Back in October, our OtB resident hoops guy Dave White wrote a piece about basketball. Specifically he wrote that the University needed to make a commitment to the sport. Hoops at Rutgers - specifically men's - had languished for too long. There was a need to commit to the sport, especially now with the advent of the Big Ten. So what does that mean? And should it only apply to basketball?
Yesterday we wrote about Oregon making a significant change in its approach to athletics, heavily supported by alum Phil Knight and the Nike brand. After the 1995 football season, everything changed in Eugene. There was certainly money available, but there was also a commitment:
Jim Bartko, executive athletic director for Nike liaison said after the 1994-95 season, "That’s when he (Knight) said we should look at the logos, uniforms and investment into facilities to make the University of Oregon a national product academically and athletically."
Bartko says it was in that meeting following the 1996 Cotton Bowl that [businessman Randy] Pape, Knight and [donor and eventual athletic director Pat] Kilkenny stepped up to say they were interested in funding whatever it took to get to the next level of play.
"Whatever it took." What other school could or would say that? Would Rutgers?
Besides Nike and the huge donations from its founder/president Phil Knight, Oregon has created some unique arrangements to help it fund various projects. For example, from the UO Foundation's most recent report, it notes that there are several "wholly owned subsidiary" operations of the Foundation. Among them:
In September 2006, Phit, LLC was formed as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Foundation to make improvements to the University athletics facilities. The most recent project was the Football Operations Center, completed in 2013. The projects are funded entirely from private donations
In May 2009, Oregon Future Expansion PK, LLC (OFX PK, LLC) was formed as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Foundation to facilitate funding for the expansion of the University baseball facilities completed January 2010.
In December 2012, Phit Too, LLC was formed as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Foundation to engage in development, construction and improvement projects in and around Autzen Stadium. Various general projects were completed in 2013. The projects are funded entirely from private donations
What that means is Oregon is taking ideas and combining them with creative marketing (read: Nike) and intelligence to create and develop projects. But beyond that, it is a commitment by the University to grow and develop, and not just in athletics.
Phil Knight ran track under the legendary UO track coach Bill Bowerman. But when Knight got involved with UO as a donor, he made a commitment to the University, not just athletics. In 1995, Oregon launched a $25 million law school building campaign, receiving a $10 million "naming gift" from Phil Knight. The Knight Law Center more than doubled the size of the law school’s facilities and sits across from Hayward Field, the school's iconic track & field facility. And Oregon's largest library building is the Knight Library, named after a $27 million donation was made to honor Knight's father. And furthering the academic side, the Nike guru has established 27 endowed chairs covering every department.
Is there a Knight somewhere out there for our knights?
Tomorrow: The will...and ability...to spend. What hath Phil wrought?
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This is part two of a four-part series on Rutgers Athletics. Stay tuned each day until the series is complete:
Part I: What is the ceiling for Rutgers?