Just when fans think the excitement level for Oklahoma State University football has risen to a new level -- the bar is placed even higher.
In a press conference Thursday morning, a large monetary gift was presented to the Oklahoma State Athletic Department by T. Boone Pickens, a 1951 graduate of Oklahoma A&M College. The total potential of the donation given will reach $70 million -- the largest private donation given to the school in its history.
Pickens, 74, announced he is giving the university $20 million to help finance renovations to Lewis Field. The trust is expected to generate an additional $15 million in eight years, of which will be put toward the Boone Pickens general scholarship fund.
Pickens also said he is setting aside $35 million in his will to fund scholarship programs for various academic and athletic programs at OSU.
The $70 million donation is nearly twice the $40 million that was reported by anonymous sources in the athletic department Wednesday. Pickens has previously given $4.5 million for 32 different programs.
"This is a large gift," Pickens said. "I understand that, but I do consider it a privilege to give it and to have the opportunity to give it. When you look back at it, it is the school I love."
The donation ensures the face-lift to Lewis Field will begin quickly, and groundbreaking ceremonies are still set to take place July 1. The $86 million, three-year makeover that includes expanding capacity to 53,000 seats from about 47,000 and a new press facility will take place in three phases, with the south side of the stadium complete for the start of the 2004 season.
Pickens said he donated the money because he felt a need to give something back to the place that holds a special place in his heart.
"The stadium is in disrepair," Pickens said. "It's going to be a great stadium that we're all going to be proud of. We've got a football team to be proud of -- we don't need a stadium to get a football team."
Pickens said it was finally the right time to make the donation he has been pondering for years. He credited the success of the 2003 OSU football team as a determining factor in his decision. Winning the 2002 Houston Bowl and securing prize recruits for the future definitely had an affect on his plans to make his donation public.
"It was a factor there is no question about that," he said. "But this is something that has been there before this season and something that I had wanted to do."
The rusty, deteriorating seating at Lewis Field was last renovated in 1971, when the capacity was increased from 39,000 to 51,000. Pickens said it is finally time to make the Cowboys' football facilities up-to-par with other schools in the Big 12 Conference.
"We've got to come to the Big 12 party," Pickens said. "Our athletic teams have progressed to the point where we're ready to come to that party, but we want to win the Big 12."
OSU Athletic Director Harry Birdwell said a friendship has formed from the time he has spent with Pickens over the last few years and he has come to know and admire the Texas oilman.
"Somebody asked me in Dallas the other day what I thought of Boone Pickens," Birdwell said. "I told what I thought of (Pickens) and when asked who I would want to be in the boat with, my first response would be the good Lord himself because he can calm the waves, but other than that it would be Boone Pickens because I have seen him ride the waves."
Pickens, a geology graduate who is said to be worth billions in total assets, started his MESA petroleum company with a $2,500 loan in 1956. He was named the outstanding chief executive in the oil producer's industry in 1981 by The Wall Street Transcript and has produced many professional papers that have established him as a scholar in the oil industry. He is also one of the nation's largest independent producers of natural gas and oil.
"Maybe last season did make it now; I said it didn't push it over the line, but it made me focus," Pickens said. "When I think about why now -- I am 74 years old -- that's why now. An appropriate reason for it is I want to see these things done before I am gone. Not that I am going anytime soon, but it is time to do it."