SBJ/January 29 - February 4, 2001/Special Report

Oklahoma expectations high

The campaign slogan sums it up in two simple words: Great Expectations. And with one of the most recognized winning traditions in intercollegiate athletics already in hand, the University of Oklahoma is banking on its current five-year fund-raising crusade to help transform those expectations into reality.

To ensure the future success of its overall athletic program, Oklahoma has expanded its goal to $100 million, which will ultimately enable the university to complete funding for major capital athletic projects. The aggressive campaign includes a $50 million renovation of its football stadium, a $17 million expansion of its basketball facilities and extensive work on 11 other projects.

"As in academic programs, OU intends to reach the highest possible standard of excellence in our athletic programs," said David L. Boren, university president. "Championship programs require top-flight facilities, and this drive will bring OU into the ranks of the nation's best."

The Sooner brain trust originally launched its five-year capital campaign in 1997 with a target of $25 million, and the plan quickly began paying dividends with the redesign of the OU Golf Course and construction of the Charlie Coe Learning Center, a $750,000, state-of-the-art golf teaching facility. Completion of a $1.4 million softball complex was not far behind, followed by groundbreaking for the Barry Switzer Center.

But before actual construction on the $7.5 million, multidimensional Switzer Center began, the capital campaign was suspended due to a changeover in administration. Terming the unexpected delay the "quiet phase," Boren and university officials went searching for a man with the right mix of vision and leadership to get things back on track.

Joe Castiglione was named OU athletic director on April 30, 1998, and he immediately redefined the capital campaign.

"My goal was to develop a comprehensive plan for facility renovation or expansion," said Castiglione, who was athletic director at Missouri from 1993 to 1998. "We didn't extend the campaign target date five more years, we actually increased the goal and remained on the same timeline [2003]."

While Castiglione credits former OU athletic directors Donnie Duncan and Steve Owens for getting the ball rolling, the 43-year-old Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native undoubtedly has been the catalyst behind the campaign's rejuvenation and overall success.

When Castiglione took the reins in Norman, Okla., the university's athletic department was running more than $7 million in the red. The accrued deficit seemed to be growing at an alarming pace, but under Castiglione's direction, the operation made a profit during the 1999-2000 fiscal year, marking the first time that had happened in 11 years.

There have been several factors in the financial turnaround, including Castiglione's strict plan to ensure fiscal responsibility from Oklahoma's coaches and the athletic department staff. Also, one of his first moves as athletic director was to negotiate a multimedia licensing program that is expected to generate $6 million for the athletic department over the same five-year period.

"I credit our coaches and the other budget supervisors for accepting the change in management of our fiscal resources. We are just trying to be wiser in how we spend," said Castiglione, who pointed out that only 25 percent of the college athletic programs around the country are balancing their budgets annually.

One of the most obvious ingredients in Castiglione's recipe for success was finding a football coach who could return the Sooners to national prominence. Oklahoma's football program was struggling through one of the worst periods in its 106-year history, but nine months after his arrival Castiglione hired Florida assistant Bob Stoops to lead OU into the 21st century.

Season-ticket sales for football immediately leapt by 12,000 to 56,000 for the 1999 season and climbed all the way to the 60,000 mark this past fall. The Sooners have sold out 11 straight home games for the first time since the late '80s, and that streak will undoubtedly continue in 2001.

In only his second season, Stoops led the Sooners to a 13-0 record and the national championship. That title came on the heels of a national championship from OU's softball team last spring and consecutive Sweet 16 appearances by the men's and women's basketball teams.

The windfall from those success stories is expected to be enormous. Prior to OU's Orange Bowl victory over Florida State on Jan. 3, the Great Expectations campaign had been supported by more than 6,000 of the university's alumni and friends, reflecting an increase of almost 40 percent in the number of contributors.

Castiglione noted the capital campaign is well over halfway to its goal of $100 million. While the financial impact of the Orange Bowl will not be felt until next year, the opportunity to be on television and the recognition of OU as a national power again bring both tangible and intangible benefits to the university.

Jay C. Upchurch is a writer in Oklahoma.

Revenue from athletic operations
School year Revenue
$18.9 million
$22 million
$20.4 million
1998-99 $25.5 million
1999-2000 $26.1 million
2000-01 $28.4 million*
* Projected
Source: University of Oklahoma athletic department

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