Walter Family donation for multipurpose facility divides Ohio University Campus

Ohio University (and St. Charles Preparatory School -- Go Cards!) alumnus Robert D. Walter (From The Compass)

On Dec. 17, 2010 Ohio University announced that alumni Robert D. and Margaret Walter had made a $10 million dollar donation for renovations on the Convocation Center and the creation of a multipurpose facility.

Twenty-four hours later and nearly 1,000 miles away, Ohio football coach Frank Solich broke the news to his ecstatic team during a pregame speech before its 48-21 loss to Troy in the R+L Carrier New Orleans Bowl.

At his National Signing Day press conference on Feb. 2, 2011 the coach emphasized the role that donation – the idea of an indoor practice facility – had in recruiting that year’s class.

“I think Bob Walter and his donation towards an indoor facility was something we were able to use and assure players that that gift was presented,” Solich said. “That was, I’m sure, somewhat big in players’ minds.”

He talked about how important it was for college athletes – not just his, but all – to be able to train year-round, to have a place to practice in the face of the notoriously fickle Ohio weather. This multipurpose facility would give them the chance to “separate themselves” from other athletes.

Then his tone and his message changed.

“This is going to give not only the football team the ability to use it year-round,” Solich said. “It’s also going to serve a huge purpose for this university in terms of students and recreation and the community.”

Not just intercollegiate athletes, Solich said. Students and faculty, intramurals activities, even Athens community soccer teams could benefit from the Walter donation.

In the face of an estimated $19.7 million university budget gap for the next year, as a representative of an embattled athletic department with it’s own budget woes, Solich nimbly sidestepped the proverbial ‘gotcha’ moment.

As university officials are quick to point out, the multipurpose facility – currently little more than an idea with some substantial financial backing – is intended be used for a broad array of purposes, and serve even broader base across campus.

“Certainly it will be used for intercollegiate athletics, but it will also be used by the Marching 110. It will be used by the ROTC. It will be used by the physical therapy program, by the sports management program,” said Rebecca Watts, chief of staff and special assistant to OU President Roderick McDavis. “The sky’s the limit.”

But still others believe that the multipurpose facility should hardly be a priority for a university exploring employee furloughs and freefalling in academic prestige.

“We’re about ready to drop out of the main line schools academically because of budget cuts and other reasons,” OU professor of economics Richard Vedder said, “For us to be going full steam ahead on this is the height of irresponsibility.

“It’s a frill. It’s one that a lot of (Mid-American Conference) schools have. It’s one that a lot of schools have. But it’s still another example of the athletics arms race in action.”