Oklahoma City — As a self-made billionaire, T. Boone Pickens can relate to being an underdog that comes out on top. Seeing his favorite team do just that makes Oklahoma State’s top booster smile.
“Go back and look at my record. I’m always the underdog, and I kind of like the role,” Pickens said Tuesday after he spoke at the Creativity World Forum. “The underdog, they underestimate you, and you come through. Sure, I loved those days I had that happen.
“Do I like to win as the favorite? I like winning anytime.”
The No. 12 Cowboys (9-1, 5-1 Big 12) find themselves in the unusual position of being the favorite this late in the season.
Oklahoma State leads the Big 12 South with two games to play for the first time and has the chance to appear in its first conference championship game and BCS bowl game with a strong finish.
Even Pickens didn’t see this coming. Before the season, he said he expected his alma mater to win eight games. At the time, even that prediction seemed optimistic for a team that lost starting quarterback Zac Robinson, two NFL first-round draft picks and nine defensive starters.
Now, even the man whose hundreds of millions of dollars helped jump-start the program’s rise to national prominence is among those who underestimated Mike Gundy’s Cowboys.
“I’m infinitely happier where I am,” Pickens said. “I feel very good about it.”
Back in 2003, Pickens donated $20 million to a stadium-renovation project at the Stillwater, Okla., university. He came back in 2006 to donate $165 million, along with a pledge to turn it into $300 million through investments. In return, the school named the stadium after Pickens.
He said he spoke to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones a couple of years ago about how both had new stadiums in the works. Pickens suggested that fans will pay to see the new stadium for about two years, but then asked Jones: “You know what happens after that?”
“You’ve got to win,” Jones replied.
“That’s right. You aren’t going to fill it up if you don’t win,” Pickens said. “So, we’re winning, and we’re going to fill it up.”
Pickens said the continuing support of the program is crucial since Oklahoma State is trying to make up for years of having a much smaller budget for sports. Until his donation, the Cowboys also were training in inferior facilities.
“That’s so important because you’re competing against Texas, which is the top program dollar-wise. They’re over $100 million athletic budget, and we’re $50 million,” Pickens said. “That’s pretty tough. So, how do we do it? Fill up the stadium.”
The next project is building an indoor practice facility, since Oklahoma State is the only Big 12 school without one.
The complex was part of a planned athletic village that was to be funded through Pickens’ big donation and subsequent investment, but those plans stalled due to the recession.
Athletic director Mike Holder started accepting bids for the project in October, but then called off the process to rework the plans to fit the school’s budget.
“That’s coming up,” Pickens said. “Holder’s working on it every day. He’s going to get it solved here at some point.”
It’s been a season of milestones for Oklahoma State, including its first wins at Texas and Texas Tech since 1944. Pickens attended the Cowboys’ 33-16 win at Texas on Saturday on the sly, passing up a few invitations from friends who wanted him to come along.
“It was a great day,” he said, noting that he would have been 16 years old the last time OSU won in Austin.
With a win Saturday at Kansas, the Cowboys would match a school record with 10 wins and reach that total for the first time in the regular season.
After that comes a showdown with No. 16 Oklahoma in the Nov. 27 Bedlam rivalry with a spot in the Big 12 championship game on the line.
“You never get a home run if you don’t get up to bat. I can tell you that we’re up to bat now,” Pickens said. “We’re at the plate, and we’ve got a chance to make it an unbelievable year for OSU. If we don’t make it, we’ll be back next year.”