STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) – Oklahoma State’s unique fundraiser was expected to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to fund school sports, based on the idea of purchasing $10 million life insurance policies on about two dozen boosters with the university as a beneficiary.
Instead, the so-called “Gift of a Lifetime” program, created on the advice of top booster T. Boone Pickens, has ended with Oklahoma State having spent $33 million with nothing to show for it.
A federal judge has ruled against Oklahoma State’s bid to get back the money it spent on premiums as part of the fundraising idea launched in 2007 with 27 boosters agreeing to have life insurance policies taken out that would pay the school when they died. Judge Jorge A. Solis in Dallas ruled Friday that Lincoln National Life Insurance Co. should keep the premiums it received from Oklahoma State as the first two yearly payments for the policies.
“We are surprised and disappointed with the judge’s ruling,” Oklahoma State spokesman Gary Shutt said Monday. “We are reviewing the opinion and assessing our options, including a possible appeal.”
The university still has a state lawsuit pending in Payne County.
Oklahoma State claimed in court filings that it was told it could make as much as $350 million through the program. Instead, OSU nixed the program about three years ago and then sued to try and regain premiums it had already paid.
The university argued that it had a right to cancel the policies and get its money back because Oklahoma law provides for a 10-day review window after policies are purchased and Lincoln did not provide actual copies of the policies until 2009.
However, athletic director Mike Holder signed policy delivery receipt forms two years earlier and didn’t ask to see full copies from Lincoln, which had kept them. Oklahoma State proceeded to pay the premiums of over $16 million for the next two years before attempting to back out of the plan.
Solis ruled that Holder technically had received the policies on behalf of Cowboy Athletics Inc., the private foundation run by OSU’s athletic department.
“It was Holder’s own decision not to read the legal documents he signed and to not read the policies. Based on these documents, both Lincoln and Cowboy subsequently treated the issued policies as valid, and they both performed under the contracts,” Solis wrote in his ruling. “For Cowboy to now claim breach of contract based on an alleged failure of delivery of the policies would itself be inequitable.”
The insurance company and brokers argued that the plan fell apart because Oklahoma State rushed into it without first arranging financing to pay for the premiums.
Attorneys produced a paper trail from Holder’s emails with him writing once that if it wasn’t done as soon as Pickens wanted, “I will be in a cave with Bin Laden.”
The school was unwilling to use Pickens’ $165 million donation to the athletic department as collateral on a loan, and that fund eventually took a hit when the economy soured. Pickens eventually had to make another donation just to complete renovations to the football stadium.
Solis ruled that the brokers had not misled Oklahoma State, and instead the university “chose to proceed despite warnings from its advisers regarding mortality rates and statistical sampling error and warnings from the brokers concerning the absence of long-term financing.”