The New York Yankees. The Dallas Cowboys. The Los Angeles Lakers. Behold the sports worlds’ axis of evil. Rooting for them to lose has become as much fun as pulling for your team to win.

Driven by a triumvirate of greedy, power-mongering men, these three franchises encompass all that is wrong with sports. George Steinbrenner has destroyed the parity – and the purity – of our national pastime by pouring money into the Pinstripes’ payroll. Most seasons, the Yanks’ opening day lineup largely resembles that of the American League team that takes the field at the All-Star break.

In his 19 years of micromanaging “America’s team,” Jerry Jones has fired arguably the greatest coach of all time in Tom Landry, forced his former college teammate and “friend” Jimmy Johnson into resigning, constructed a championship team around a core of dollar-grabbing felons, is in the process of building a one billion-dollar stadium and has definitely had a face lift (I can’t prove that last one, but he looks more like Michael Jackson every year).

Jerry Buss continues to coddle Kobe Bryant like a two-year-old, allowing Bryant to whine, pout and boss Buss around. Buss is to blame for setting a precedent in the NBA of letting star players cram “i” into “team.”

We also have Buss to thank for arenas named after corporations (Buss sold the rights to the L.A. Forum to Great Western Savings and Loan in 1988), dance teams who featured glorified strippers (pom-poms went out the window with the Laker girls) and Shaq leaving Hollywood (No Kazaam sequel? Damn you Jerry Buss!). Buss also pimped his daughter out to the team’s head coach, got caught driving drunk with a 20-something-year-old-girl in his car and competed in televised poker matches, but I digress.

Wielding the almighty dollar in the quest for success has come to be expected in the professional sports world, and the cash flow has seeped down through the college ranks over the years. NBC and Notre Dame have an exclusive television deal, despite the fact most football fans would rather watch Charlie Weis get stuck in the bathtub than watch the Fighting Irish play football. But one man is threatening to turn the idyllic pasture of collegiate athletics greener than ever before.

In the days leading up to Kansas’ clash with Memphis Monday night, the River Walk rumor mill churned with gossip over the six million-dollar signing bonus Oklahoma State was preparing to throw at Kansas Head Coach Bill Self. The whispers must have sounded like shouts to Self, who met his wife while playing ball at Okie State, providing quite the distraction before the biggest game of his coaching career. This all came after Oklahoma State University Athletic Director Mike Holder bought out former coach Sean Sutton for $2.7 million earlier in the week. The whole deal was classless, cutthroat and conniving. Such behavior has come to be expected from Cowboy country.

Over the past few years, OSU has witnessed a process of rearmament not seen since the rise of the Third Reich. Gallagher-Iba Arena, once a rickety, 6,318-capacity field house, is now a gleaming cathedral that seats 13,000 plus, the state’s largest sports arena. The football team already dresses in a brand-new locker room and competes on a sparkly playing surface, and the stadium is undergoing even more expansion. A monstrous indoor practice facility for football, baseball and track is in the works, and an “athletic village” the size of most towns on the Oklahoma plains is sprouting north of the football stadium. The entire project is said to be worth $700 million.

So how is sleepy Stillwater becoming collegiate athletics’ Oz?

The booming voice behind the curtain belongs to oil wizard T. Boone Pickens Jr., who has used his $1.5 billion fortune to fund a five year plan for athletic success at his alma mater. Pickens has contributed over $265 million to Cowboys athletics over the years, including a $165 million gift to OSU’s athletic department in 2006, the largest single donation in the history of collegiate athletics.

The $165 million – which is larger than the GDP of a handful of third world countries – and the cool $70 million he forked over in 2003 dwarf the one million he gave to the school’s geology department 20 years ago.

The facelift for the football stadium (which now bears the name of its prime benefactor) and the construction of the athletic complex resulted in the bulldozing of 300 plus residences and over 100 acres. Not good.

But the most troubling development of all is the stranglehold Pickens has over Holder. Holder was nothing but a golf coach, albeit a successful one, before becoming the OSU A.D. How did that happen? He got by with a little help from his friend Pickens, who was Holder’s longtime hunting buddy.

Pickens’ influence ripples throughout the hierarchy of the university administration. According to the New York Times, the $165 million was in OSU’s hands for all of an hour before the school invested it in a Pickens-controlled hedge fund with BP Capital Management.

With an entire academic institution rolling in his dough, Pickens is re-creating the Bronx Zoo on the Oklahoma Prairie, fashioning his Cowboys as America’s other team, bringing a little showtime to Stillwater.

In 2004, the 77-year-old oil and gas tycoon endorsed former Cowboys quarterback Mike Gundy as the best candidate for the OSU football coaching vacancy. Gundy got the job. In three seasons, Gundy has posted a losing record and made a fool of himself in a press conference tirade, yet he somehow managed to get a contract extension last November. Don’t think Pickens wasn’t in on the pursuit of Self – the booster has admitted to having a serious man-crush on the Jayhawks coach.

We’ll likely see a bloody bidding war in the Midwest over the next week. Self could earn $1.9 million at KU next season, but if Kansas Athletic Director Lew Perkins wants to hold onto him, he will have to rock-chalk-Jayhawk up some serious cash.

And so the cost of the almighty dollar will once again be driven up in college athletics, thanks to bull-headed men like Pickens, who believe their success in the world of dollars and cents quantifies poking around with X’s and O’s.

“I know how to win. I have won before,” Pickens told ESPN.com in 2006. “I want to know what is going on. If we have a coaching change I want to be one of the first to know about it. If anybody is leaving or coming in, I sure want to be in on helping pick that person. I don’t find sports a helluva lot different than business. You don’t go out there to lose.”

This is all very ironic coming from a man who lost his basketball scholarship following one season at Texas A&M and didn’t bother playing basketball after transferring to Oklahoma State.

On the court, Pickens wasn’t worth his weight in gold.

Harlan Goode is a senior in the College. He can be reached at goodethehoya.com. The Goode Worde appears every Friday in HOYA SPORTS.

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