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Part of that could be because football isn’t a 365-day-a-year obsession there the way it is in Alabama, where Auburn and the University of Alabama butt heads at almost every intersection.

It could also be, though, that the folks at Oregon simply know when to stay quiet.

Almost every time in the past two decades that Oregon’s administration has done anything that might offend Knight _ such as when the school president linked up with a workers rights group critical of Nike’s labor practices _ meetings have been held, policies and personnel have been shifted and the threat of losing the Nike money, whether it be real or perceived, has been removed. Not a bad way to operate, considering it costs more than $18 million a year to run the OU football program ($27 million at Auburn) according to statistics compiled by the federal government.

Unlike Lowder, Knight holds no official position at the university. But in 2007, he paid $100 million for a legacy fund to ensure sports will remain self-supporting. That’s on top of the $45 million he gave toward a stadium renovation in 2002 and countless other major donations he’s made over the decades. (He also gave a record-setting $105 million to his other alma mater, the Stanford Graduate School of Business.)

“My own opinion is that in university and intercollegiate athletics, he who pays the piper gets to call the tune, for better and for worse,” Nichols said.

Nike, of course, provides millions of dollars to dozens of other schools via apparel deals. And, in fact, on Thursday, Knight endowed a prestigious National Football Foundation award in perpetuity, and attached former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden’s name to it.

Still, nobody gets more out of the Nike founder than Oregon. It’s no surprise that the Ducks were the first to highlight multiple uniform combinations, replete with the latest in “high tech,” performance-enhancing technology.

Yet in Eugene, it seems Knight is no better known where his company’s money is dispersed than anywhere else. He declined a request to be interviewed for this story.

“He works hard to be under the radar,” said Oregon biology professor Nathan Tublitz, another member of COIA. “The guy is mercurial and he makes it his business to stay away from general university life.”

For the most part, though, Knight is portrayed as a gentle and unassuming donor _ “You’d never think he’s a billionaire. Just a normal guy,” says James, Oregon’s star running back _ albeit one with the best luxury suite in Autzen Stadium, the 59,000-seat monster that towers over the Willamette River.

Tublitz said in his perfect world, the financially struggling university would get to direct every donor’s money to the area of greatest need.

Knight, however, is a sports fan who has made his fortune in the sports world, so the bulk of his money goes there. It’s the blessing and the curse of having so much money coming from a single source.

“If you spread out the money to 100 people giving the same collective amount, you may reduce your vulnerability to the whims of one person, but you also reduce control,” Nichols said. “The question then becomes, ‘Which do you prefer?’”

For the foreseeable future at Oregon and Auburn, there won’t be much of a choice.