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.

Swear Off Toilet Paper With This Bidet Toilet Seat That's Easy to Install and Costs Less Than $100

Tushy
Tushy

The recent coronavirus-related toilet paper shortage has put the spotlight on the TP-less alternative that Americans have yet to truly embrace: the bidet.

It's not exactly a secret that toilet paper is wasteful—it's estimated to cost 437 billion gallons of water and 15 million trees to produce our yearly supply of the stuff. But while the numbers are plain to see, bidets still aren't common in the United States.

Well, if price was ever the biggest barrier standing in the way of swearing off toilet paper for good, there's now a cost-effective way to make the switch. Right now, you can get the space-saving Tushy bidet for less than $100. And you'll be able to install it yourself in just 10 minutes.

What is a Bidet?

Before we go any further, let’s just go ahead and get the awkward technical details out of the way. Instead of using toilet paper after going to the bathroom, bidets get you clean by using a stream of concentrated water that comes out of a faucet or nozzle. Traditional bidets look like weird toilets without tanks or lids, and while they’re pretty uncommon in the United States, you’ve definitely seen one if you’ve ever been to Europe or Asia.

That said, bidets aren’t just good for your butt. When you reduce toilet paper usage, you also reduce the amount of chemicals and emissions required to produce it, which is good for the environment. At the same time, you’re also saving money. So this is a huge win-win.

Unfortunately, traditional bidets are not an option for most Americans because they take up a lot of bathroom space and require extra plumbing. That’s where Tushy comes in.

The Tushy Classic Bidet Toilet Seat.

Unlike traditional bidets, the Tushy bidet doesn’t take up any extra space in your bathroom. It’s an attachment for your existing toilet that places an adjustable self-cleaning nozzle at the back of the bowl, just underneath the seat. But it doesn’t require any additional plumbing or electricity. All you have to do is remove the seat from your toilet, connect the Tushy to the clean water supply behind the toilet, and replace the seat on top of the Tushy attachment.

The Tushy has a control panel that lets you adjust the angle and pressure of the water stream for a perfect custom clean. The nozzle lowers when the Tushy is activated and retracts into its housing when not in use, keeping it clean and sanitary.

Like all bidets, the Tushy system takes a little getting used to. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll never want to use toilet paper again. In fact, Tushy is so sure you’ll love their product, they offer customers a 60-day risk-free guarantee. If you don’t love your Tushy, you can send it back for a full refund, minus shipping and handling.

Normally, the Tushy Classic retails for $109, but right now you can get the Tushy Classic for just $89. So if you’ve been thinking about going TP-free, now is definitely the time to do it.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Bo Knows Everything: Remembering Nike's Legendary Bo Jackson Ad Campaign

Bo Jackson and the "Bo Knows" campaign helped Nike finally overtake Reebook in the early 1990s.
Bo Jackson and the "Bo Knows" campaign helped Nike finally overtake Reebook in the early 1990s.
Mike Powell, Allsport/Getty Images

It may have been difficult for Nike to conceive of any athlete being able to do more for its company than Michael Jordan. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the Chicago Bulls star was omnipresent, helping turn their Air Jordan line of sneakers into a squeaky chorus in school hallways and gyms around the country. Even better, the company had scored big with “Just Do It,” an advertising slogan introduced in 1988 that became part of the public lexicon.

There was just one issue. In spite of Jordan’s growing popularity and their innovative advertising, Nike was still in second place behind Reebok. No other athlete on their roster could seemingly bridge the gap. Not even their new cross-training shoe endorsed by tennis pro John McEnroe was igniting excitement in the way the company had hoped.

In 1989, two major events changed all of that: An advertising copywriter was struck with inspiration, and two-sport athlete Bo Jackson slammed a first-inning home run during the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The ad man’s idea was to portray Jackson as being able to do just about anything. Jackson went ahead and proved him right.

 

Bo Jackson was an ideal spokesperson for Nike's new line of cross-training sneakers. The Auburn University graduate was making waves as a rare two-sport pro athlete; he was playing baseball for the Kansas City Royals and football for the Los Angeles Raiders. Early commercials featured Jackson sampling other sporting activities like riding a bike. “Now, when’s that Tour de France?” he asked. In another, he dunked a basketball and pondered the potential of “Air Bo.”

At a Portland bar near Nike’s headquarters one evening, Nike vice president of marketing Tom Clarke and Jim Riswold of ad agency Wieden + Kennedy were pondering how best to use Jackson going forward. Clarke wanted to devote the majority of their budget for the cross-trainers to an ad campaign featuring the athlete. The two started lobbing ideas about other people named Bo—Bo Derek, Beau Brummell, Little Bo Peep, and Bo Diddley, among others.

The last one stuck with Riswold. He thought of a phrase—“Bo, you don’t know Diddley”—and went home to sleep on it. When he woke up the next morning, he was able to sketch out an entire commercial premise in minutes. Riswold envisioned a spot in which Jackson would try his hand at other sports, punctuating each with a “Bo Knows” proclamation. Jackson soon realizes the one thing he can’t do is play guitar with Bo Diddley, the legendary musician.

It took longer to shoot the commercial than to conceive of it. The spot was shot over the course of a month, with the crew going to California, Florida, and Kansas to film cameos with other athletes including Jordan, McEnroe, and Wayne Gretzky—all of whom Nike had under personal appearance contracts.

Fearing Jackson might hurt himself trying to skate, the production filmed him from the knees up sliding around in socks at a University of Kansas gymnasium rather than on ice. But not all attempts at caution were successful. When director Joe Pytka grew frustrated that Jackson kept running off-camera and implored him to move in a straight line, Jackson steamrolled both the equipment and Pytka, who had to tend to a bloody nose before continuing.

In portraying any other athlete this way, the campaign may have come off as stretching credulity. But Jackson had already been improving his game in all areas, hitting a 515-foot home run during a spring training win over the Boston Red Sox. In April, he hit .282 and tallied eight home runs. Even when he struck out, he still stood out: Jackson was prone to breaking his bat over his knee in frustration.

 

After Jackson was voted into the 1989 MLB All-Star Game in July, Nike decided the telecast would be the ideal place to debut their Bo Knows campaign. They handed out Bo Knows pennants for fans and even flew Bo Knows signs overhead. Bo Knows appeared in a full-page spot for USA Today. Even by Nike standards, this was big.

There was, of course, a chance Jackson would be in a bat-breaking mood, which might diminish the commercial’s impact. But in the very first inning, Jackson sent one into the stands off pitcher Rick Reuschel. With a little scrambling, Nike was able to get their ad moved up from the fourth inning, where it was originally scheduled to run. In the broadcast booth, announcer Vin Scully and special guest, former president Ronald Reagan, marveled at Jackson’s prowess. Scully reminded viewers that his pro football career was something Jackson once described as a “hobby.”

A Bo Jackson fan is pictured holding up a 'Bo Knows Baseball!' sign at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim, California on July 11, 1989
A Bo Jackson fan shows his support at the MLB All-Star Game in Anaheim, California on July 11, 1989.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Jackson was named the Most Valuable Player of the game. That summer and into the fall, Bo Knows was quickly moving up the ranks of the most pervasive commercial spots in memory, second only to Jordan’s memorable ads for Nike and McDonald’s. Jackson turned up in sequels, trying his hand at everything from surfing to soccer to cricket. Special effects artists created multiple Bo Jacksons, a seemingly supernatural explanation for why he excelled at everything.

It was a myth, but one rooted in reality. After 92 wins with the Royals as a left-fielder in 1989, Jackson reported for the NFL season that fall as a running back for the Raiders. In one three-game stretch, he ran for over 100 yards each. Against the Cincinnati Bengals in November, Jackson ran 92 yards for a touchdown. He finished the season with 950 rushing yards. That winter, he was named to the Pro Bowl, making him the only athlete to appear in two all-star games for two major North American sports in consecutive seasons.

Nike was staggered by the results of Bo Knows, which helped them leap over Reebok to become the top athletic shoe company. They eventually secured 80 percent of the cross-training shoe market, going from $40 million in sales to $400 million, a feat that executives attributed in large part to Jackson. Bo Knows, bolstered by Jackson’s demonstrated versatility, was the perfect marriage of concept and talent. His stature as a spokesperson rose, and he appeared in spots for AT&T and Mountain Dew Sport, earning a reported $2 million a year for endorsements. A viewer survey named him the most persuasive athlete in advertising. If that weren’t enough, Jackson also appeared in the popular Nintendo Entertainment System game Tecmo Bowl and on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1989.

 

In 1991, Jackson suffered a serious hip injury during a Raiders game, one that permanently derailed his football career. He played three more seasons of baseball with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels before retiring from sports in 1994.

Jackson's relationship with Nike was dissolved soon after, though the company never totally abandoned the concept of athletes wading into new territory. In 2004, a campaign depicted big names sampling other activities. Tennis great Andre Agassi suited up for the Boston Red Sox; cyclist Lance Armstrong was seen boxing; Serena Williams played beach volleyball. The Bo Knows DNA ran throughout.

Jackson still makes periodic references to the campaign, including in advertisements for his Bo Jackson Signature Foods. (“Bo Knows Meat,” the website proclaims.) In 2019, Jackson also appeared in a Sprint commercial that aimed for surrealism, with Jackson holding a mermaid playing a keytar and having a robot intone that “Bo does know” something about cell phone carriers.

The other key Bo—Diddley—never quite understood why the campaign worked. After seeing the commercial, he reportedly said that he was confused because it had nothing to do with shoes.