Green with Envy

Autzen stadium in Eugene has become one of the most respected home venues in college football. Oregon has a loud and boisterous home crowd, and has become a difficult place for visiting teams to play.

Autzen stadium underwent a $90 million facelift ten years ago, with 12,000 seats and 32 luxury boxes added. The new addition brought the stadium capacity all the way up to …. 54,000.

That’s right. With all of the Nike money invested in the University of Oregon athletics, Autzen Stadium has a grand total of 387 more seats than Colorado’s Folsom Field.

Which gives some perspective as to how far the University of Oregon has come in the past decade or so. The Ducks are now a perennial ten-win team, and have been in the national championship conversation for most of the 21st century. Colorado is seven seasons removed from its last winning campaign, and hasn’t been ranked since 2007.

But it wasn’t always this way ….

Prior to the 21st century, the University of Oregon football team had posted ten wins in a season … exactly zero times.

Prior to the 21st century, the University of Oregon had appeared in 15 bowl games, winning six.

The University of Colorado, over that same time span, appeared in 23 bowl games, winning 11.

Colorado has won 675 games since it started playing football in 1890, second-highest total in the Pac-12.

Oregon has won 608 games since it started playing football in 1894, sixth-highest total in the Pac-12.

CU’s all-time winning percentage, .594, is fourth-highest in the Pac-12.

OU’s all-time winning percentage, .560, is tenth-highest in the Pac-12, ahead of only Washington State and Oregon State.

The Buffs have a national championship and a Heisman trophy winner, one of 24 schools nationally which can so boast. Oregon has neither a national championship nor a Heisman trophy winner.

I could go on, but you get the point … Oregon is presently a power in college football, but is a late-comer to the dance.

On January 2, 2002, Colorado met Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl. Both teams were smarting, having been shut out of the BCS national championship game against Miami (in favor of Nebraska, which did not even win its division, much less its conference). Still, both teams were conference champions, and both were ten-game winners. Colorado was ranked No. 3 in the nation heading to the Fiesta bowl; Oregon No. 2.

Since that game, it has been a decade of struggle for the Buffs, currently fighting through their seventh consecutive losing season – a school record. Conversely, since the 2002 Fiesta Bowl game against Colorado, the Ducks have enjoyed the best decade – by far – in school annals.

The difference?


Or, more precisely, Phil Knight’s Nike money.

Phil Knight has pumped over $100 million into University of Oregon athletics in the past decade, and the results are plain to see. Just as has been the case with Oklahoma State, where the money of T. Boone Pickens has been used to raise the little brother Cowboys equal to and sometimes above the big brother Sooners, money has made the difference in Eugene.

Do the Ducks have better coaches than do the Buffs? Clearly.

Do the Ducks have better players than do the Buffs? Obviously.

Money is not the only component to developing a successful program … but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Buff fans well know that Colorado entered the Pac-12 behind its peers in terms of the monetary “arms race”. Colorado had to agree to forego Big 12 income as part of its penalty for leaving that conference early. Plus, Colorado was not a full participant in the Pac-12 television distribution for 2011 as it was not a part of the expiring Pac-10 television contracts (which is one of the reasons why CU agreed to a play-for-pay away game at Ohio State last season). There was also the not so small consideration of having to pay off Dan Hawkins and some of his staff members, who still had two years remaining on their ill-fated contract extensions from 2007.

All of the above led to the CU athletic department borrowing $10 million from the University in order to bridge the gap between leaving behind the Big 12 and Dan Hawkins and the start of the 12-year, $3 billion television contracts of the Pac-12.

Okay, we get it … Colorado did not exactly hit the ground running as a new member of the Pac-12.

But now?

This past spring, Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn indicated that there would be a “transformational” announcement in September concerning athletic facilities upgrades. The annoucement came at a good time, with the Buffs coming off of a 3-10 season, and with little brother Colorado State making noise about building a new, $240 million on-campus stadium.

Then September approached, and Bohn back-peddled. First, he said that there was no timetable for an announcement. Then, at the “Parade of Buffs” before the UCLA game, Bohn reported that the announcement would not be coming until next spring.

The reason for the delay?


In order to build $220 million worth of upgrades, including an indoor practice facility which has been on the drawing boards since the Dal Ward Center was constructed 20 years ago, it is going to take a major influx of donor dollars. Pac-12 money will certainly help, but it is going to take dollars from the Buff Nation to make the upgrades a reality.

How hard will that be to accomplish?

There is this sobering note: Colorado has had nine donors of over $1 million … in school history.

Still, the lack of progress towards the “transformational” announcement has frustrated Buff fans. Announcements from around the Pac-12, including from schools like Washington State and Utah – schools which Buff fans consider as being below Colorado in the Pac-12 pecking order – did not make the waiting any easier.

Then CU President Bruce Benson poured gasoline on the fire.

In an early October interview with the Boulder Daily Camera, CU fans read the following: “Benson attends most CU football games home and away and says he talks with a lot of the biggest donors to the school and the athletic department at the games. Apparently those folks either don’t have the same sense of urgency as those who post their complaints on message boards or call talk radio or they just haven’t brought it up with Benson.

” ‘There certainly hasn’t been any conversation like that that I’ve had and I see a lot of people and go to a lot of events,’ Benson said. ‘My phone hasn’t been ringing. My emails aren’t off the walls. I’m not getting any pressure. Somebody else might be, but I sure haven’t heard a word.’ ”

Not a word? Really?

Well, apparently CU chancellor Phil DiStefano has heard too much.

Before the Arizona State game a week after the Benson interview, AllBuffs member BuffaloBrad had this to report: “Phil DiStefano had perfect opportunity to have a meaningful conversation surrounding the vision and plans for the CU AD and he chose to get defensive and blame the donors. I had a brief conversation with him as the group I was with entered the Field House before the ASU game. During that conversation I asked him when we were going to get serious about announcing some facility upgrades and his response was did I have $50 million to donate to make it happen. I said no but that I had donated significant amounts over the last 10 years and did that count for something. His response was that donors need to donate to make it happen and if I could get the $50 million we would get the facilities. He then walked off.”

While the Benson and DiStefano exchanges might infuriate fans, they may bear fruit long term. If there was any chance that athletic director Mike Bohn or chancellor Phil DiStefano had any feelings along the lines of President Benson – “I haven’t heard a word” – those feelings have to be long gone. For Bohn to feel pressured enough to make an announcment at the Parade of Buffs – even if it is only to say that there wouldn’t be an annoucement – is a fair indication that Bohn is hearing, perhaps daily, from CU fans about facilities. For DiStefano to be so defensive when encountering a fan – when it’s his job to make nice to donors – is a fair indication that he is hearing plenty about facilities.

Walking out of Autzen after CU’s blowout loss to Oregon (okay, we left when it was 70-14 at the end of the third quarter), it was hard not to reflect on the past ten seasons. In January, 2002, Colorado was a top five team, but since then hasn’t sniffed the top ten, and hasn’t been ranked for five full seasons, CU’s longest drought since the early 1980’s. Meanwhile, Oregon, since January, 2002, has maintained a level of excellence which is the envy of most of the college football world.

Colorado has a proud history, but that doesn’t mean much to today’s star recruits.

Oregon has a spotty history, but has everything today’s star recruits could ever want.

Buff fans can rightly be jealous of the green of Oregon.

And it has nothing to do with the Ducks’ school colors …

2 Replies to “Green with Envy”

  1. If Mike Bohn really believes he has seen improvement with the football team then
    he should be fired along with the entire coaching staff. At least under Hawkins they were somewhat competitive. We have become the laughing stock if college football

  2. Stuart,

    Thanks for the perspective, I agree that it is a matter of wealth in order to regain the competive status we want.It has been a tough time finacially for CU and the country. We have some mountains left to climb but I do think we need to stay together and not run scared. It is really hard when we are so outclassed, 70-14 but despite the score, that team shows promise. They never quit and the continued to play with effort. Further, I think the money is there once the program shows promise, which is a shame that the money doesn’t always precede success most often it follows promise but that is the way it is.

    Go Buffs

    Dick Taylor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *