Knight (left) and Lowder

Forget the millionaire coaches and all those superstar athletes running around, look up to the executive skyboxes. Don't be naive, the big championship game between the UO and Auburn Jan. 10 is really a showdown of the two schools' top boosters: Phil Knight vs. Bobby Lowder.

Here's a matchup of the two public universities' septuagenarian top power players:

POWER

Knight- The Oregonian last month gave front page credit to the secretive Nike billionaire's "lavish donations" for putting the Ducks in the bowl championship. The year before, the paper's sport's columnist John Canzano credited the team's rise to the deep pockets of "Uncle Phil": "The Ducks could not sustain what they've done over the past decade in conference play without Knight."

Lowder- In 2006, ESPN dubbed the secretive bank tycoon "the Most Powerful Booster of college sports." Lowder "is arguably the most powerful person in the state of Alabama, let alone on the Auburn campus." His "fingerprints have lingered for three decades in the hiring and firing of coaches and athletic directors alike - even university presidents."

CONTROL

Knight- Knight and top UO officials have denied that the sneaker tycoon controls the UO, but in the past two decades, Knight has allegedly used the threat of cutting off contributions to control human rights stands, personnel decisions and building construction at the UO, according to press reports.

In 2000, Knight threatened to not give $35 million to expand Autzen Stadium because he was angered that student protests had lead the university to join a worker's rights group critical of Nike sweatshops in Asia. The next year, the UO withdrew from the human rights group and Knight's millions flowed again to UO athletics.

In 2001 Knight cut off donations to the UO track team to protest the coach's perceived de-emphasis of distance running. The coach soon resigned.

In 2006, Knight criticized the UO athletic director for decisions regarding track and for not retaining a staff member Knight favored. Knight said the director's perceived failings made him reluctant to contribute to a new basketball arena. Four months later, the athletic director resigned with a $1.8 million severance package requiring his silence.

The AD was replaced by a booster friend of Knight's who quickly rehired Knight's favored staffer.

Knight has made his private control of building projects a condition of his donations, evading state open bidding and transparency laws designed to avoid waste, fraud and abuse. Construction of the $250 million basketball arena, $42 million "jock in the box" center and a planned, perhaps $100 million new athletic office building, the most expensive and lavish buildings in the state's history, were all under Knight's private control without open bids or records.

Knight successfully made a $100 million endowment contribution for the athletic department contingent on his demand that the state legislature quickly vote to approve $200 million in state-backed bonds for the new arena.

UO President Richard Lariviere recently warned the State Board of Higher Education that the "negative consequences" to fundraising would be "really, really profound" if it did not immediately approve Knight's private control of construction of the new athletic office building, the Oregonian reported. After the "some of the starkest ever" warnings about Knight's power, the state board quickly voted yes, according to the paper.

Noting the "KGB" secrecy around Knight's arena deal, Oregonian columnist Steve Duin called the UO administration "100 percent servile" to Knight. Oregonian sports columnist Canzano wrote of the UO President, "He's got the title, but Knight has the keys."

Lowder- Lowder and top Auburn officials have denied that the banking tycoon controls the public university, but Fortune magazine reported, "Lowder has been accused of making backroom deals with governors and treating the Auburn football program like a private fiefdom."

Lowder's estimated $20 million in contribution's to Auburn pales compared to Knight's estimated $300 million, but Lowder's power comes less from raw cash than political gamesmanship, ESPN reported. Lowder is Auburn's longest serving trustee, 28 years, and chairs the board's powerful finance committee. When a governor tried to remove him from the position in 1995, he contributed $25,000 to a replacement governor who reappointed Lowder and allegedly gave him power over other Auburn trustee appointments, ESPN reported.

In 2003 Lowder secretly flew the Auburn president and other top officials on his private jet in a failed "attempted coup" to recruit a replacement football coach, ESPN reported. The ensuing scandal toppled the Auburn president and athletic director and put the university on probation with its accrediting agency. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) expressed concern that Lowder controlled the board of trustees through the appointment of his personal and business associates and that the university president did not have "ultimate control over the athletics program," ESPN reported.

When a fellow trustee angered him, Lowder allegedly threatened to have him killed and cancelled funding for an economics program he favored, Fortune reported. After the campus newspaper angered Lowder, he allegedly retaliated by moving the journalism department into the communications school, according to the business magazine.

One of the football coaches that Lowder ousted has alleged that Lowder was involved in a pay-for-play recruiting scheme in the past, ESPN reported. Last month, Auburn star Cam Newton was suspended for pay-for-play violations but quickly reinstated after the NCAA blamed his father for the scheme.

FUTURE

Knight- Knight's power at the UO and in Oregon only appears to be growing. He told the Oregonian last month that he backs a UO plan to create a board of trustees similar to Auburn's with the power to raise tuition. But he hasn't given the Legislature an explicit threat that he'll cut UO contributions unless the plan is approved, yet. Last year, Knight became one of the state's top political power brokers with more than $600,000 in contributions to Republicans and to oppose taxes on the rich. While the nation suffers record unemployment, Nike's third world sweatshops are humming with the corporation's stock up 40 percent in the last three years. Knight's age, 73 next month, has apparently made him only more powerful as UO officials "whisper" about the prospect of getting a large part of his $11 billion estate when the Nike tycoon dies, according to the Oregonian.

Lowder- Lowder's power at Auburn appears to be on the wane, giving Knight the edge in this booster bowl matchup. Lowder recently stepped down from control of Colonial bank just before federal regulators seized the $26-billion institution in one of the largest bank failures in U.S. history, Fortune reported. The bank and Lowder speculated heavily in the real estate bubble, and Lowder now faces civil and perhaps criminal lawsuits alleging that he mislead investors and regulators, the magazine reported. Lowder lost a personal fortune and $2.8 billion in federal deposit insurance money, but the booster still chair's the Auburn trustee finance committee.

The Eugene City Council is considering a variety of city tax options to help local schools facing severe budget cuts.

The mayor and a city councilor have reportedly asked city staff for information on several tax options including a graduated income tax, a flat income tax and a restaurant tax.

A progressive, graduated city income tax with rates set at 0.5 percent for income (AGI) $50,000 to $99,999, 1 percent for $100,000 to $249,999, and 1.5 percent for incomes more than $249,999 would generate roughly $40 million per year. That's based on an EW analysis of state tax data that assumes Eugene has a similar income distribution to Lane County and generates about 63 percent of the Adjusted Gross Income in the county.

A flat 1 percent income tax would generate roughly $44 million a year for local schools, according to the EW analysis.

A 5 percent Eugene restaurant tax would generate about $4 million a year, based on adjusting a previous city staff estimate of restaurant tax revenue to account for growth. The 4J school district may cut scores of teachers and effectively limit school to four days a week to close a $22 million budget deficit. Bethel also faces millions of dollars in cuts.

Based on local voting experience, a graduated, progressive income tax could be the easiest to pass.

Last year a state income tax increase on income over $250,000 passed three to one in Eugene.

The proposed graduated tax on incomes above $50,000 in Eugene would impact roughly a third of local taxpayers, according to EW's analysis. The proposed 1 percent flat tax on all incomes would impact all voters, but would generate only 10 percent more revenue than the graduated tax on incomes above $50,000.

If the graduated tax were limited to incomes above $70,000, the tax would impact roughly 20 percent of taxpayers and generate roughly $22 million a year. A graduated tax above $100,000 would impact roughly 10 percent and generate roughly $19 million a year.

A proposed flat county income tax to fund the jail failed two to one in Eugene in 1999 amid criticism that it was unfair to the poor and emphasized prisons over crime prevention and treatment.

A proposed 5 percent Eugene tax on restaurants in 1993 to help with a city budget deficit, failed by a 20 percent margin. Restaurants organized to oppose the tax which they argued could send business outside city limits and citizens expressed concern it could unfairly impact the poor, who spend about a third of their limited income on fast food.

To refer a city tax measure to save local schools to the May ballot, the Eugene City Council will have to vote for the referral by the middle of next month.

The Audubon Society of Lane County will be conducting its 69th annual Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, Jan. 2. The count will be part of the National Audubon Society's 111th annual Christmas Bird Count.

There will be 27 teams of bird watchers, each led by an expert birder, covering the standard 15-mile-wide circle that includes all of Eugene, east Springfield, LCC, Spencer Butte, Fern Ridge Lake, Alvadore, Coburg and the area north of the Eugene Airport.

“Some teams even start before daylight to search for owls,” says Dick Lamster, count coordinator. “Afterward, the bird watchers will gather to discuss the day’s activities, submit the list of birds they saw and have a chili dinner.” Last year 136 species were seen and 92,541 individual birds were counted.

Lamster says people who do not want to walk around all day looking for birds can submit the list of birds they saw at their bird feeders in their backyards during the day and this will be added to the totals. Bird feeder watchers should call Herb Wisner at 344-3634 to receive information and the proper forms.

For other information please call Lamster at 343-8664.

Are Oregon’s forests being managed sustainably? A set of indicators developed with broad public input suggests not, and the Oregon Board of Forestry is inviting the public to help shape a plan to improve the health and productivity of our public and private forests.

A 90-day public comment period for the draft 2011 Forestry Program for Oregon ends Dec. 31. The full 76-page text of the draft 2011 Forestry Program for Oregon is online at
www.oregonforestry.gov/ODF/BOARD/fpfo2011.shtml

Comments on the draft can be provided by email, snail mail, or fax. Email to information@odf.state.or.us. Include "2011 Forestry Program for Oregon Comments" in the subject line. You will receive a response from agency staff within
approximately one to three working days that lets you know your comments have been received.

Mail/fax comments to: David Morman, Director, Forest Resources Planning Program, ODF, 2600 State St., Salem 97310; or fax to (503) 945-7490.

Thanks to Samantha Chirillo for providing this information.

New ambition: Teach the various pets of Weekly staffers to sing. Or at least give them peanut butter so they make funny movements with their mouths and people with more time on their hands can edit the footage into videos in which it looks like our pets are singing.

The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland … Portland is a city where young people go to retire … all the hot girls wear glasses … It's like an alternative universe … in Portland you can go to a record store and sell cds.

A preview of Portlandia, a satirical sketch comedy coming to cable network IFC starring Fred Armisen of Saturday Night Live and Carrie Brownstein, formerly of indie band Sleater-Kinney.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer meets The Police, with the snowman on guitar (banjo, whatever). Awesome.

If you haven't already seen one of the many versions of UO's On the Rocks' gone viral a cappella version of Lady Gaga's Bad Romance that led them to their appearance on NBC's The Sing-Off.

Here they add some music, but don't quite lose the irony.

And then it seems that On the Rocks goes the way of Supwitchugirl.

Kinda wonder if their swan song choice of an Elton John medley was inspired by a certain upcoming performance …

They "found their inner Eltons."

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