4 Extravagant College Boosters

Getty Images
Getty Images

If you follow college sports, you're bound to hear about boosters. Sometimes they're mentioned in hushed tones as shadowy figures whose contributions to a program might not be totally above board, but they're often just regular fans who like to give their teams some extra cash. (In some cases, lots of extra cash. Wheelbarrows full of it.) In return for this funding, boosters often get access to coaches, practices, and players. Although you often don't hear about boosters until one of them breaks a rule by paying a player or giving a team member illegal gifts, most boosters are upstanding financial backers of their squads. Some, though, go well beyond the call of duty and give gigantic gifts that can help a team or athletic department thrive for decades. Here are a few notable extravagant boosters:

1. T. Boone Pickens, Oklahoma State University

Pickens made a $3 billion fortune in the oil and hedge fund industries, and he's also risen to fame as an outspoken advocate of alternative energy sources. Oklahoma State fans know Pickens as one of the most generous donors of all time, too. Pickens has given over $400 million to his alma mater, and the bulk of his donations have gone to the Cowboys' athletic department. His January 2006 gift of $165 million to OSU was the most generous donation in NCAA history. Even though this gift was later criticized because the cash went directly back into a hedge fund managed by Pickens, it's hard to sneer at what Pickens has done for the school's teams; his total donations to the athletic department total over $265 million. (And after all, someone needs to manage $165 million. You can't just stick it in a checking account.)

So what does all that dough buy you? When Pickens goes to see his beloved Cowboys play football now, he takes a seat in Boone Pickens Stadium.

2. Phil Knight, University of Oregon

Nike co-founder Knight has made a killing in the sneaker game; he owns 35% of Nike, which gives him a net worth in the $10 billion range. As a Portland native and University of Oregon graduate, he loves the Ducks, for whom he once ran on the track team. Most fans know that Knight has forged a strong connection between Oregon athletics and Nike, if only because of the football team's odd trademark Nike jerseys. He's given more than threads to the school's athletic department, though; he's forked over some serious cash as well. Knight's given around $230 million to the university, most of which has gone towards athletics. He and his wife recently announced a $100 million pledge to another athletic fund at the school. Knight is relatively private about his sports philanthropy, though, and some fans suspect the actual number could be even higher; they often attribute anonymous donations to athletic programs to Knight. On top of that, he's been extremely generous to the university's academic side as well.

Knight's donations don't make him universally beloved, though. Some fans think he might wield too much influence within the athletic department. He's got his own locker in the Ducks' locker room, and he apparently helped influence the school into hiring his pal Pat Kilkenny as its athletic director despite Kilkenny's lack of degree or relevant experience. When Knight pulled his donation from the track program following personal and philosophical clashes with the team's head coach, the coach resigned despite having led the team through a strong season, a move some suspected Knight forced. That's one of the downsides of boosters, though. Get on their bad side, and you're pretty much gone.

3. Ralph Engelstad, University of North Dakota

The late Engelstad sounds like quite a character. He was a self-made man as an independent owner of casinos in Las Vegas and Biloxi, Mississippi, and he periodically fell under criticism for his large collection of Nazi paraphernalia, including a painting of himself dressed in full Nazi garb and murals of Hitler. He also loved his alma mater, the University of North Dakota, and held a special place in his heart for the hockey team. Engelstad was a long-time booster of UND's Fighting Sioux teams, and he provided the funds for a new $104 million arena on campus.

There was just one hitch, though: Englestad was extremely wedded to the Fighting Sioux nickname. As teams around the country started changing offensive Native American nicknames, Engelstad threatened to withdraw his financial support for the arena unless the name stayed. To help make sure the nickname would stick, Engelstad had the school's Sioux logo stuck in thousands of places around the plush new arena. The state's Board of Higher Education eventually agreed to table discussion of the nickname, but at present, the school has until 2010 to convince the state's Sioux tribes to agree to let the nickname stand, or Engelstad's beloved teams might have to change their names.

4. Bobby Lowder, Auburn University

You might think that the most powerful man in Auburn's football program is head coach Tommy Tuberville, but that might not be completely true. Lower, a 1964 Auburn grad, throws around a good deal of weight as well. While most boosters are tied only to a university's athletic department, Lowder, the founder of The Colonial BancGroup, also sits on school's publicly appointed board of trustees. From this chair, Lowder can exercise huge influence over the school's athletics, even if his $20 million or so in financial donations don't rank up there with the big boys like Knight and Pickens. Lowder allegedly has used his influence at Auburn to convince coaches to quit and then exercised some degree of control of the hiring of their successors. When Auburn nearly dumped Tuberville in an effort to lure Louisville coach Bobby Petrino to the sidelines, the school's president and athletic director secretly flew to Louisville to chat with Petrino. How did they travel in secret? By taking Lowder's private jet. Now that's influence. No wonder ESPN named him college sports' most powerful booster.

Ethan Trex co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

7 Tips for Winning an Arm Wrestling Match

iStock
iStock

Geoff Hale was playing Division II college baseball in Kansas City, Missouri, when he sat down and started flipping through the channels on his TV. There—probably on TBS—was Over the Top, the 1987 arm wrestling melodrama starring Sylvester Stallone as Lincoln Hawke, a truck driver who aspires to win his estranged son’s affections. And to do that, he has to win a national arm wrestling tournament. Obviously.

Neither the worst nor the best of Stallone’s efforts, Over the Top made Hale recall his high school years and how the fringe sport had satisfied his athletic interests, which weren't being met by baseball. “I had never lost a match,” Hale tells Mental Floss of his arm wrestling prowess. “The movie reminded me that I was good at it.”

That was 13 years ago. Now a professional competitor known as the Haleraiser, the full-time petroleum geologist has won several major titles. While you may not have the constitution for the surprisingly traumatic sport (more on that later), you might still want to handle yourself in the event of a spontaneous match breaking out. We asked Hale for some tips on what to do when you’re confronted with the opportunity to achieve a modest amount of glory while arm-grappling on a beer-stained table. This is what he told us.

1. KNOW THAT SIZE DOESN'T MATTER.

A child uses books to help in arm-wrestling an adult
iStock

Well, it does. But really only if your opponent knows what they’re doing. Otherwise, having a bowling pin for a forearm isn’t anything to be wary about. If anything, your densely-built foe may have a false sense of confidence. “Everyone has arm-wrestled since they were a kid and thinks they know what it is,” Hale says. “It looks easy, but there’s actually a very complex set of movements. It’s good to check your ego at the door.”

2. PRETEND YOU’RE PART OF THE TABLE.

A man offers to arm wrestle from behind a table
iStock

When you square up with your opposition to lock hands—thumb digging into the fleshy part, fingers wrapped around the back—don’t lean over the table with your butt in the air. And don’t make the common mistake of sitting down for a match, either. “It limits you from a technique standpoint,” Hale says, and could even open you up to injury.

Instead, you want to plant the foot that matches your dominant hand under the table with your hip touching the edge. With your free hand, grip the edge or push down on the top for stability. “Pretend like you’re part of the table,” Hale says. That way, you’ll be able to recruit your shoulders, triceps, and biceps into the competition.

3. REMEMBER TO BREATHE.

Two men engage in an arm wrestling match
iStock

If you’re turning the color of a lobster, you’re probably holding in your breath. “Don’t,” Hale says. Remember to continue taking in air through your nose. There’s no benefit to treating the match like a diving expedition. The lack of oxygen will just tire your muscles out faster.

4. BEAT THE HAND, NOT THE ARM.

Two hands appear in close-up during an arm wrestling contest
iStock

There are three basic techniques in arm wrestling, according to Hale: the shoulder press, the hook, and the top roll. The shoulder press recruits the shoulder right behind the arm, pushing the opposing appendage down as if you were performing a triceps pressdown. The hook is more complex, varying pressure from all sides and incorporating pulling motions to bend the wrist backward. For the best chance of winning, opt for the top roll, which involves sliding your hand up your opponent’s so your grip is attacking the top portion nearest the fingers. That way, he or she is recruiting fewer major muscle groups to resist. “When you beat the hand, the arm follows,” Hale says. Because this is more strategy than strength, you might wind up toppling some formidable-looking opponents.

5. IN A STALEMATE, WAIT FOR AN OPENING.

A man and woman engage in an arm wrestling contest
iStock

While lots of arm wrestling matches end quickly, others become a battle of attrition. When you find yourself locked up in the middle of the table, wait for your opponent to relax. They almost always will. “In a neutral position, it’s good to stay static, keeping your body and arm locked up,” Hale says. “You’re just waiting for your opponent to make a mistake.” The moment you feel their arm lose tension, attack.

6. TRY SCREAMING.

A woman screams while winning an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestlers play all kinds of psychological games, and while some might be immune to trash talk, it’s likely your rival will be influenced by some selective insults. “You can make someone lose their focus easily,” Hale says. “In a stalemate, you can give them a hard time, tell them they’re not strong. It’s intimidating to be out of breath and to see someone just talking.”

7. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, GO SECOND.

A man struggles while losing an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestling exacts a heavy toll on winners and losers alike: The prolonged muscle contractions can easily fatigue people not used to the exertion. If you fear a loss from a bigger, stronger opponent, conspire to have them wrestle someone else first, then take advantage of their fatigue.

If all goes well, you might want to consider pursuing the sport on more competitive levels—but you probably shouldn’t. “It takes a toll on the body,” Hale says. “I’ve got tendonitis and don’t compete as much as I used to. On the amateur level, it’s common to see arm breaks, usually the humerus [upper arm] bone. The body was not really made for arm wrestling.”

Does the University of Florida Still Make Money Off Gatorade?

George Frey, Getty Images
George Frey, Getty Images

In September 1965, 10 freshmen players on the University of Florida's Gators football team agreed to let the school's kidney disease specialist, Robert Cade, assess their hydration levels during practices. He took urine samples. He interviewed athletes. He asked to take their rectal temperature during games.

The players agreed to all but the last request. In analyzing his results, Cade discovered that the wilting heat, coupled with a lack of hydration, resulted in subjects who were very low on electrolytes like sodium and potassium, sometimes losing six to nine pounds of water per practice session—with some footballers having anecdotes of 15 to 20 pounds lost during games. Cade felt that players suffered from low blood volume and low blood sugar. Many, in fact, were being hospitalized after overexerting themselves without drinking enough water, traditionally seen as a way of building toughness in players. Those who remained on field were surely not playing up to their potential.

Cade mixed water, sugar, salt, and lemon juice, then ordered them to drink the solution to keep their bodies in balance. By 1967, the Gators were all consuming "Gatorade," and incidences of heat stroke fell sharply. The Gators secured a 9-2 record in 1966; the team became renowned for their renewed energy during the second half, and ignited a transformation in sports science. Decades later and backed by a massive promotional machine, Gatorade has permeated both professional sports and amateur athletics alike, replenishing electrolytes lost during physical activity. Roughly 632 million cases were sold in 2013 alone.

With the sports drink having been born on the Gators's playing field and invented by a University of Florida employee, it's not hard to see why both Cade's estate (he died in 2007) and the school get a percentage of royalties from sales, an agreement that's still in place today. But if they had their way, the university would be getting all of it.

A University of Florida coach is soaked in Gatorade by his players after a win
Donald Miralle, Getty Images

After Cade and his co-researchers finalized Gatorade’s formula, Cade approached the school's head of sponsored research to see if they wanted to come to an arrangement over the rights to the drink (Cade wanted $10,000) and determine if they wanted to try and sell it to a national distributor. According to Cade, University of Florida (UF) officials weren't interested, so he struck a deal with beverage maker Stokely Van-Camp in 1967.

Stokely's offer was for Cade and his cohorts—now known as the Gatorade Trust—to receive a $25,000 cash payment, a $5000 bonus, and a five-cent royalty on each gallon of Gatorade sold. When UF realized that they had been shortsighted in assessing the brand's mass market appeal—and that they were missing out on profits—they allegedly told Cade that the drink belonged to them.

"Go to hell," Cade responded, a statement that kicked off several years of litigation.

While Cade was a university employee, funds for his work actually came from the government—specifically, the Department of Health. He also managed to avoid signing an agreement solidifying his inventions as school property. For these reasons, and because both sides anticipated an endless and costly legal jiu-jitsu match in their futures, the two accepted a federal ruling in 1972. The Gatorade Trust would continue to receive their royalties, and the school would take 20 percent of the disbursement.

Initially, that meant one cent for every gallon of Gatorade sold, a fraction of the five cents owed to the Trust. In September 1973, following the first full year of the agreement, UF made $115,296 in royalties and earmarked the funds for kidney research and marine science.

Gatorade cups are shown stacked in a locker room
J. Meric, Getty Images

That's a considerable sum, but it's nothing compared to what poured out in the decades to come. When Stokely Van-Camp was purchased by Quaker Oats in 1983, they kicked off a heavy promotional campaign that highlighted Gatorade in commercials and sponsored teams. Coaches began getting doused with jugs full of Gatorade following big victories. When PepsiCo bought Quaker for $13.4 billion in 2000, they leveraged their marketing muscle to further engender the brand.

Consequently, both the Gatorade Trust and UF have profited immensely. As of 2015, the Trust had earned well over $1 billion in royalties, with 20 percent, or about $281 million, going to UF. The five-cent per gallon formula has been replaced by a percentage: between 1.9 percent and 3.6 percent depending on how much Gatorade is sold annually, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell, with the University taking a fifth of that. The funds have been invested in the school's Genetics Institute, the Whitney Marine Laboratory in St. Augustine, and to help disperse seed money for grants.

The school naturally has an affinity for the stuff, but that can occasionally come into conflict with other marketing deals. In 2016, the University of Florida’s women's basketball team played in the NCAA Tournament, which was sponsored by Powerade, a competing sports drink made by Coca-Cola. As a compromise, the players dumped their Gatorade into Powerade bottles and cups. The beverage born on campus—one that's netted them nearly $300 million to date—always comes first.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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