By Daniel Libit
For 45 years, college basketball featured two famous arenas dubbed, “The Pit,” one in Albuquerque, the other in Eugene, Oregon.
In 2010, the University of New Mexico renovated its version of The Pit, University Arena, plowing $60 million into the home of Lobo basketball, thanks largely to the generosity of state taxpayers. Lobo fans were duly proud. The next year, the University of Oregon ditched its version of “The Pit”, MacArthur Court, and moved into the brand-new, quarter-billion-dollar Matthew Knight Arena, built thanks to the largesse of its namesake’s father, Nike founder Phil Knight. That’s the difference between the haves and have-nots in Division I college sports.
Over the course of the last 25 years, Knight has given (if that’s the right word) nearly a billion dollars to Oregon, his alma mater, with nearly half of that going to athletic department construction projects. Because of him, the Ducks have been transformed from a middling Pac 10 (now 12) athletic department into the intercollegiate envy of the nation. (That photo above is of Oregon football’s $138 million Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, completed in 2013 and named for Knight’s mother and mother-in-law.)
And yet, to read Joshua Hunt’s eye-opening new book, University of Nike: How Corporate Cash Bought American Higher Education, one finds strange commonalities between the plights of a have-not like UNM and a have like UO — and theirs are indeed both plights. Knight’s money hasn’t stopped Oregon from raising student fees to pay for athletics; it hasn’t freed its school presidents from obsessing over the fate of football and men’s basketball; and it certainly hasn’t made for a better or more sensibly administered university. Quite the contrary, as Hunt describes.
In the latest episode of The NMFishbowl Podcast, Hunt and I talk about how the pursuit of college sports tends to vitiate public universities, regardless of how much or little private money is brought to bear. You can listen to our conversation by clicking below (or download it on iTunes here):
Among other things, Hunt addresses the pushback he’s received from the family of former Oregon President David Frohnmayer; the galling obstructionism undertaken by UO’s media relations staff; and his arduous journey in trying to obtain public records from a university.
Here are some additional reading materials and useful links…
- Joshua Hunt’s personal website
- Joshua Hunt on Twitter
- Bill Harbaugh’s UO Matters blog
- The Open-Records King of Eugene — The Chronicle of Higher Education
- 3 Oregon Basketball Players Face Rape Charges — New York Times
- 3 Suspended in Oregon Sexual Assault Case — New York Times
- New York Times resubmits requests for public records on University of Oregon sexual misconduct case — Student Press Law Center
- Phone Records Contradict Oregon’s Stance on How Much Dana Altman Knew of Player’s Rape Case — SI.com
- The Secret Betrayal That Sealed Nike’s Special Influence Over the University of Oregon — Pacific Standard (adapted from Hunt’s book)
- Think Nike’s woke? Phil Knight’s castration of the University of Oregon might change your mind — New York Post
- Parsing the UO Puppet Show — Eugene Weekly
- Author of controversial ‘University of Nike’ book visits Eugene bookstore — University of Oregon Daily Emerald
- In public challenge, Frohnmayer family confronts ‘University of Nike’ author at Powell’s — Portland Business Journal
- Disconnects Between Missions and Operations: Beyond Maryland Football — Inside Higher Ed
- Communications Director out at UO — Eugene Weekly
Featured Image by Visitor7 / Wikimedia Commons