How NIL influences the Oklahoma State athletics vision plan one year later

How NIL influences the Oklahoma State athletics vision plan one year later

Chad Weiberg says the two facilities in the athletics vision plan OSU has made the most progress on are the Human Performance Institute and the wrestling practice facility. The vision plan was revealed a year ago on Tuesday and the emergence of NIL has taken time away from the project.

Ben Hutchens

By Ben Hutchens

| Feb 27, 2024, 6:00am CST

Ben Hutchens

By Ben Hutchens

Feb 27, 2024, 6:00am CST

(Ben and Sam Hutchens’ OSU newsletter hits inboxes every week. Subscribe here for the latest)

STILLWATER — A year ago, Chad Weiberg stood up in the Oklahoma State football meeting room and unveiled the university’s athletic vision plan. Behind him, a video displayed renderings of the future. 

The plan was extensive. 

It highlighted a Human Performance Innovation Center combined with a football center, a new softball stadium, an indoor track and field, and new practice facilities for the wrestling and basketball teams. Also included were ongoing seating bowl renovations to Boone Pickens Stadium, a covered arena at the Pedigo-Hull Equestrian Center and course enhancements at Karsten Creek Golf Course.

The space east of Gallagher-Iba Arena was reimagined as a welcome plaza. 

The plan’s $325 million cost makes is the most expensive in OSU athletics history, surpassing even $217.5 million renovation of Boone Pickens Stadium in 2004. 

At the time, Weiberg, OSU athletic director, didn’t have specific answers on timeframes for construction, revenue sources or which projects would be completed first. In unveiling the plan, Weiberg said all of that would be decided by donors. 

Throughout the 29-minute news conference, NIL wasn’t brought up. That shows how rapidly college athletics continues to evolve. Name, image and likeness is an arms race vitally important to the health of a college athletics program. 

It seems like it’s the only thing those in OSU’s athletic department have time to think about, too. 

“Even though I thought it would be a lot, I think I grossly underestimated how much time really the whole department would spend on it,” Weiberg told Sellout Crowd.

The variable of time

The biggest challenge with NIL Weiberg and OSU’s athletic administration are facing is time. It takes attention away from other places and projects, like the vision plan that was a top priority a year ago. OSU’s NIL money isn’t a problem. 

Weiberg said he feels like the plan is pretty much where he expected it to be a year after the announcement. Methodical is a good word for it. 

“I feel good about where we are,” Weiberg said. “I think we’re probably where I thought we would be or hoped to be, making progress but still a lot of work to do.”

Part of the project, the second half of $55 million seating bowl renovations at Boone Pickens Stadium, is underway and hoped to be completed Aug. 1. Other than fans peeking out the windows of the Gallagher-Iba Arena concourse and seeing the new bleachers get installed, the vision plan has largely been out of sight and out of mind. 

Last June, Oklahoma State announced a $120 million gift from the T. Boone Pickens Foundation. Pickens’ lifetime giving to OSU reaches around $650 million. Just over half of the latest sum, the last of Pickens’ donations, went to student scholarships while $25 million was earmarked for the human performance center and some to Karsten Creek.

So how much money, exactly, has been raised for the vision plan since the big unveiling a year ago? Weiberg was asked directly. 

“I don’t know if I’m ready to get into that,” Weiberg said, “and I’ll tell you why.”

Weiberg explained the university is working on its next large campaign, which is trending toward launching in the fall. The athletics vision plan is part of that larger campaign. 

“There’s some desire to want to wait until we publicly launched the campaign to start announcing gifts, whether it’s to athletics or otherwise,” Weiberg said. 

Weiberg did reveal the two facilities OSU has made the most progress on are the human performance facility and the wrestling practice facility. 

“I think if that continues to trend, those would be the first things you would start to see from an announcement standpoint or moving into construction,” Weiberg said. 

Weiberg said he often gets asked if the emergence of NIL has impacted the timeframe and viability of the vision plan. 

“I wouldn’t say that it’s had any kind of impact on what we’re doing here other than…just the time we have to focus on it versus NIL,” Weiberg said.

In May 2022, a group of alumni founded Pokes With a Purpose, OSU’s official NIL collective. Although it’s not a university entity (that’s against NCAA rules) it is the largest group facilitating NIL at Oklahoma State. 

So could the need for NIL end up impacting when the vision plan is complete? It’s certainly possible. Anything with NIL is possible. 

“(NIL) may end up having a greater impact (on the plan),” Weiberg said. “But that remains to be seen.”

Keeping up in the new world

In October, coach Mike Gundy was presented with a hypothetical scenario that doesn’t feel so hypothetical. Let’s say there’s a building project on the horizon. Would he rather have money to spend on NIL or break ground on new football facilities?

“Don’t build it,” Gundy said. “Put the money in the bank. Put the money in the bank and spend it on NIL…It’s just the future. And not saying I agree with it, I’m just saying it’s a sign of the times.”

He said players used to commit to schools with the shiniest weight rooms and newest uniforms. That’s not how it works anymore. 

“When you bring players in and you ask them if you want $60,000 a year cash or a new weight room or a new players lounge, they’re going to take the cash,” Gundy said.

Weiberg acknowledged Gundy’s comments. Weiberg said he thinks all the coaches on campus know NIL can’t be ignored. 

Weiberg also said OSU can’t direct all of its donor money away from facilities and put it into NIL.

He slid a paper across the table in his office listing sweeping facility improvements planned by every Big 12 school, even the four schools joining the league this summer. All had plans for facility upgrades, some in the $100+ million range just like OSU’s.

“It’d be one thing if the whole world sort of stopped building facilities and everyone was just concentrating on NIL and you could say, ‘OK, well, we can do that too,’” Weiberg said. “But it’s not as easy to do that. If, you know, they’re continuing to build facilities on top of NIL.”

Pickens, the billionaire Texas oil magnate who died in 2019 has done more for Oklahoma State than any one person. He put OSU way ahead of the pack with total donations of $650 million and in 2006 a sum of $165 million for a stadium overhaul. At the time, it was the largest contribution made by one person to an athletics department. 

Weiberg wants to keep OSU at the front because he believes it’s easier to stay there than fall behind and try to catch up. 

“I felt like there was an obligation almost for us to try to continue to capitalize on that and stay ahead, not just rest,” Weiberg said. “Because it’d be very easy to do that, especially now with everything we have going on.”

So how does OSU forge on with a sweeping facility plan and continue to take care of NIL?  After all, the donors supporting OSU Athletics and Pokes with a Purpose is an overlapping Venn diagram. It’s a tricky question that requires a coordinated effort. 

“I think what our administration is doing, tied in with Pokes with a Purpose, is they’re trying to find ways to get these people (donors) together and make sure we’re not trying to squeeze blood from the same turnip all the time, Gundy said in November.

“Oklahoma State has a number of people that we can get resources for for these types of donations, but we don’t have maybe the numbers that some other schools do so we have to be very tedious as to how we operate and make sure we’re doing it the right way. “

Pledging money for a new building has obvious benefits to a person’s legacy. Cecil O’Brate’s last name will be on the baseball stadium forever. Everyone who drives on Hall of Fame sees the Cowboy football team practicing in an indoor space courtesy of Sherman E. Smith. Pledging money to an NIL collective has less obvious benefits to a donor’s legacy. Donors recognize the importance of NIL and see it as an annual thing that has to be done. 

“I don’t even think they’re looking at it the same way,” Weiberg said. “I think there’s almost an operational aspect to it, and a legacy aspect to it.”

Weiberg’s job is to make sure all of OSU’s donors know donating to NIL and facilities both make tremendous impacts. There is room for everybody. 

“We sort of lay out… here’s how this helps, you know, and this is what you would see from making a gift in this area,” Weiberg said. “So like NIL, if they’re helping contribute to the collective or whatever and we’re able to retain our current roster or whatever, then they know that they played an important role in retaining our roster, which is big deal.”

NIL is important. So are facility improvements. Weiberg doesn’t want one to flourish at the other’s expense.

“If we stop right here and don’t do another thing, you’re going to start falling behind,” Weiberg said.

 

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Ben Hutchens and his twin brother Sam cover Oklahoma State for the Sellout Crowd. After a decade of living in the state, Ben finally feels justified in calling himself an Oklahoman. You can reach him at [email protected] and continue the dialogue @Ben_ Hutchens_ on social media.

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