Originally written on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 11/20/14
It’s Intricate

The relationship that Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, has with the Oregon Ducks has been well documented. From his days as a track athlete at the University to the generous donations he has provided them with throughout the years, there is perhaps no donor in the nation that is more intricately and controversially tied to his former program.

Recently, Knight and the University of Oregon began receiving much attention for a highly publicized new coaching facility. Although first reports by the Register Guard were incorrect about a private hot tub and video screen for Chip Kelly, many are still up in arms about the fact at how opulent and prestigious this new coaching facility is.

Yet, is all the flack that the University of Oregon and Phil Knight receiving merited?

In order to answer that question, we must first explore the unique relationship shared between Knight and the Ducks.

Knight’s relationship with the University began from a very early age where he was a student and athlete preparing for life in the real world. After finishing with a career best 4:10 mile and three varsity letters in track (1957, 1958, and 1959), Phil graduated with a business degree with a great entrepreneurial spirit.

Phil Knight’s relationship with the University of Oregon has been well-documented. Photo: oregonlive.com

Taking this entrepreneurial spirit around the world, Knight discovered Tiger shoes while on a vacation in Japan. After securing a deal that gave him right for selling the shoes in the United States, Knight entered into a business partnership with Bill Bowerman – legendary Oregon track coach.

And so, Nike was born and the rest is history.

More than any other brand in the world of sports, Nike has changed the way fitness and athletics are perceived. The company took training gear to a whole new level and established new standards in the world of sports, en route to making Knight one of the most profitable men in the world.

While there has been much controversy of the labor practices that Nike participates in, especially overseas, Knight has consistently stood behind the stance that he does not support anything that would harm or hurt any form of being.

In these regards, Knight may be correct. While the labor standards in these countries are definitely not up to what the United States has come to see as an “average” lifestyle, the money that these people take home are better than not having any money whatsoever.

Without these jobs provided by Nike, these people would be making nothing instead of something.

These are individuals who make a choice to work at these factories, not people who are forced into slave labor.

Though this argument could go on for decades, the more recent controversy has been Knight’s donations that he has given to the University of Oregon.

Over the years, it is estimated that Knight has provided Oregon with over $230 million in support of athletic and academic facilities.

From expansion of Autzen stadium to the new coaching facilities that are being constructed, Knight has been integral in forwarding the progress of Oregon athletics into a nationally branded machine.

Many are up in arms about this. These people state that the donations he is making are unethical and unjust. They cry out for NCAA violations in hope of calming the Oregon monster.

Yet, those arguments are not merited. All Phil Knight is doing is giving back to the University that ended up providing him with so much throughout his entire life. The gifts that he gives, like so many other donors throughout the nation, are his thank yous to a program that made him into the man that he is today.

And in terms of the complexity and opulence of the new facilities, this is only because Oregon has really never had these facilities until recently. For many years the Oregon program was part of the bottom feeders in the Pac-10, unable to generate any revenue. Now that the money and success is there, Oregon has been able to build these facilities; facilities that are being built to survive many years in the future.

Facilities that other schools already have.

That is what many people do not understand; Oregon is doing the same thing that other schools have been doing for decades. 

In fact, while Oregon’s $68 million coaching facility is receiving all the attention, fellow Pac-12 school Arizona has broken ground for their $72 million coaching facility and nobody is up-in-arms about that.

Due to recent success and the donations of Knight, Oregon is finally able to build these facilities that have become standard around the rest of the nation. Like any other good investment, they are building these facilities to last well into the future. That is the reason why they are so technologically innovative — so Oregon will not have to further expand and change them for many years to come.

While his donations to the athletics program are over-publicized and criticized, Knight’s donations towards other programs have been left unappreciated and disregarded. Knight’s donations helped with the expansion of Oregon’s library, the building of their law school, and the support of general university expansion; all projects that are not related to athletics.

The new Oregon Football coaches and player facility (sketch design). Photo credit: fishduck.com

His donations also go passed the University of Oregon. Knight, also a graduate of the Stanford Graduate Business program, previously donated $105 million towards the Cardinal business school – a contribution that is often left off record when discussing Knight’s donations.

Besides his alma maters, Knight also donated $100 million to the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU); the largest donation in that universities history.

If not evident from the above paragraph, Knight has done much more than fund the development of the Oregon athletic program. He has given large donations to academic facilities that are integral in forwarding the growth of future generations.

Sure, Knight has given a lot of money to the University of Oregon. However, the $230 million that he has given the university that gave him the opportunity to become the man he is today is just 1.59% of his total net worth.

Prior to the Univeristy of Oregon, Stanford, and Nike, Phil Knight was just a regular kid working a night shift, running an excess of five miles to and from work.

From humble beginnings, Knight has developed into one of the most successful businessmen in sports history.

Though his methods may be said to be controversial at times, he is only operating within the American business system that so many more profit from.

If those who criticize Knight and the University of Oregon for being too opulent and extravagant really take a look at the numbers and what the university has done for Knight, they would understand that he is just the same as any other booster; he just has more money to operate with.

And after all things, there is nothing wrong with an individual giving back to their university and supporting the students and athletes that attend it.


© Chris Anderson for North West Sports Beat, 2012. | Permalink | No comment |

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Post tags: Autzen Stadium, Bill Bowerman, Chip Kelly, ducks football blog, Go Ducks, Nike, Nike football blog, OHSU, Oregon Ducks, Oregon Ducks Blog, Oregon Ducks facilities, oregon ducks football, Oregon Ducks football blog, Phil Knight, Phil Knight and the Oregon Ducks, Stanford Cardinal

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