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.”

Despite changing NCAA regulations, Solich lands top recruiting class

Ohio recruiting coordinator Brian Haines, left, and head coach Frank Solich at the Feb. 2 Singing Day press conference. (Courtesy of The Post -- Staff Photographer Alex Goodlett)

At his press conference on National Signing Day, Ohio football coach Frank Solich proudly announced that this year’s recruiting class could be the best he has had in his seven-year stint in Athens. His first point of emphasis for the 24-man class wasn’t the speed, skill or size of the athletes, though.

“We’ve got a lot of excellent players,” Solich said, “a lot of guys with really high character.”

As more and more NCAA rules violations are being brought to light at high-profile athletic programs, Solich and his staff are trying to ensure their team’s compliance by bringing in players with skill and character. But, even the process of recruiting itself is riddled with rules and regulations. The school’s compliance staff must meticulously monitor and any and all forms of contact with a prospective student-athlete.

The NCAA has a stringent calendar that all Division I football programs must adhere to when recruiting prospects. There are limits set on personal contact, visits to a prospect’s “educational institution” and chances to evaluate prospects during competition.

Even if a coach is approached by a prospect’s parent at the mall, he can do no more than exchange pleasantries, lest the program forfeit one of its 42 face to face contact opportunities – and that’s only if it’s during the “contact period.’

Any contact outside of that seemingly arbitrary two-month window from late November through late January — specific dates vary from year to year determined by a formula in the NCAA Bylaws – and a program could likely find itself slapped with a sanction.

“It’s tough. You’ve got to stay on top of it,” Ohio tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Brian Haines said. “You’ve got to know what you’re doing and what’s right.”

But, Haines said there was a simple solution to effectively navigate the NCAA’s constantly changing rules and regulations, and ensure all his actions are on the level.

“Put our compliance department in your favorites in your phone,” he said. “We’re always communicating back-and-fourth and they do a good job of helping us out.

Haines shouldered much of the responsibility in determining whether a recruit’s athletic abilities merited a scholarship from Ohio University.

Tricia Turley, associate athletic director for Compliance and Student Services, on the other hand, made sure the recruits and the recruiters were held up to NCAA standards.

“We handle what paperwork needs to be completed by the prospect and when,” Turley said in an email correspondence. “We also provide academic assessments based on the NCAA Qualifier standards for the coaches and help facilitate the admissions process.

“We also answer various questions about communication with the prospects.”