COLUMBIA — With its jump to the Southeastern Conference, Missouri was well aware of the increased competition.
A football conference responsible for the past seven BCS National Champions, baseball teams that currently represent eight of Baseball America's top 25 teams in the country and top softball and gymnastics competition. It was going be a different world than the Big 12 Conference.
On Tuesday, the focus was on meeting the challenges that world poses when the MU athletics department announced a nearly $8.3 million gift from MU alums Don and Audrey Walsworth of Marceline.
"Missouri, right now, has probably the nicest and best facilities of most schools in the Big 12," Don Walsworth said. "Now, when you compare that to the SEC, that's a different ballgame."
The athletics department's current $200 million master plan aims to close the gap. One piece of that plan, and a major focus of the Walsworths' gift, is the construction of a new clubhouse for the men's and women's golf teams at The Club at Old Hawthorne.
The project will include coaches' offices, locker rooms and indoor practice facilities.
"It truly puts us on a level playing field with the rest of the Southeastern Conference," said MU senior Jace Long, a member of the men's golf team.
However, athletics Director Mike Alden estimated that those improvements would only cost around $1.5 million to $2 million, leaving additional funds for other projects.
Alden talked at length with reporters about the athletics department's plans for Memorial Stadium. He said several renovations to the stadium are expected to be complete by 2013. The "Rock M" will be moved closer to the field, the north concourse will be expanded, the press box will be moved up a level and new seating options will be added on the west side of the stadium.
Alden also expressed hope that, with help from the Walsworths' donation, the addition of seating options to the east side of the stadium could be done by 2014, a year earlier than was projected when the master plan was first revealed.
With the most recent donation, along with an anonymous $6.4 million gift from December 2012 and the Kansas City Sports Trust's $30 million from June, MU has experienced a spate of contributions, actions Alden hopes will encourage more potential donors to contribute.
"That would be our hope," he said when asked if he thought a "domino effect" of donations would occur. "It's been interesting. We were talking about that earlier, over the course of the last six months, to have three significant gifts like that, for a university ... and so our hope would be that those dominoes would continue to fall."
While facilities were certainly a focus of the day, illustrated by the numerous conceptual drawings that surrounded the stage and podium, Alden still emphasized the impact the gift could have on academics.
During his speech, he said athletics are "absolutely not the most important program that happens here" and called them a "great advertising vehicle" for MU as a whole, saying the gift money could be used for academic endowments.
"We try not to have all of that money (from a gift) go towards bricks and mortar," Alden said. "We'd like to have some of that money go towards scholarships and endowments, because we're really trying to build that up."
Alden specified, though, that the planned distribution of the gift money was not set in stone.
"The important thing is, we have not pinned that, specifically, on just one thing or another, and we haven't specified exactly how we're going to split that up," he said. "We just know that this, in itself, helps put us over the top for golf."
The Walsworths are both MU alums. Don Walsworth is CEO of the Walsworth Publishing Company and served as a chairman of the UM System Board of Curators as well as numerous other committees at MU.
Two of the Walsworths’ children, Ed and Lynn, played golf at MU, and their son, Don Jr., played at Stanford. The golf teams’ new clubhouse will include locker rooms, coaches’ offices and indoor practice facilities.