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MU notebook: More about Tuesday's big athletics announcement

By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star

COLUMBIA | Long before Missouri made the decision to join the Southeastern Conference last fall, Gary Pinkel was adamant that if his program was going to play with the big boys, his school had better be ready to spend.

“I’ve often expressed that if you’re not going to be committed to excellence and invest, then you should never go into this league,” Pinkel said.

So understand, for Pinkel, Tuesday’s $200 million master plan announcement was significant. Dressed in a black Missouri t-shirt and wearing a relaxed look on his face – “I’m on vacation,” he said while grinning – Pinkel spoke about what the facility renovations would mean to the rising football program he’s spent almost 12 years building.

“It’s a great day because what you’re seeing is a commitment to become a great team in a great league, and that means becoming a national team as we continue to build our program,” Pinkel said. “I couldn’t be more excited about it, and I know our players are.”

With good reason. Football stands the most to gain from the planned multi-million dollar renovations, which is no surprise, considering the overwhelming competitiveness of the SEC, which has won the last six national championships in the sport.

So the importance of the announcements were not lost on Pinkel or athletic director Mike Alden, the latter of which got slightly emotional during the press conference as he stopped to think about how far the school has come during his 14-year tenure.

“I didn’t see (this) coming,” Alden admitted. “I got a little emotional up there, and I was really looking at Gary, because Coach and I, we’ve worked together for a long time now and I think all of us knew what we hoped could happen by working together, but you never really know if those things will take place.

“To see those things transpire over the course of the last 14 years – but really over the last five, six, seven years at a higher level – I’m not sure you could have ever imagined that.”

Even Pinkel offered a moment of reflection when asked if he saw all this coming when he took over several years ago.

“Hmm, I don’t know,” Pinkel said, followed by a brief pause. “Shoot, three of my first four years, we had losing seasons. People forget about that. But I feel proud we’ve made our contribution (to all this). I know football has played a part in it.

“The most important thing is, what are we going to do with it now? What are we going to do with this great opportunity?”

The goal, obviously, is to have continued success on the field, where Missouri has reached seven straight bowl games and Pinkel has accumulated a 76-40 record over the past nine season. A key to keeping that going, he said, is keeping up with the trends in regards to facilities, and he feels the planned renovations to Memorial Stadium - which are sweeping and grand and can be found here - will play a large part in that.

“It’s great for many reasons, but it’s also huge for recruiting,” Pinkel said. “I think looking better aesthetically is real important. That’s the way kids are now. Eighteen-year-old kids, they want the pop, they want it to look good. The (new FieldTurf) in itself is an outstanding move in that direction.”

Alden said the capacity of the stadium should increase to a little over 75,000 once the first phase of the project is done by August 2015. Sweeping changes to the east and west sides of the stadium will be completed by then, in addition to the widening of the north concourse.

Alden said the second phase of the plan, which will call for the addition of a new structure on the south end that will contain coaches’ offices, should be completed within the next 8-10 years, depending on the school’s ability to generate major gifts (like the $30 million gift recently provided by the Kansas City Sports Trust).

“It’s all going to depend on how ticket sales and fundraising go and the success of our program,” Alden said. “The more you can have of that early, the sooner you will see the south end become a reality.

Alden added the final capacity of Memorial Stadium should approach 80,000 when all is said and done, and this – plus the upgrades – make Pinkel believe Missouri’s stadium will eventually be in the top half of the SEC in terms of grandeur.

“It’s a great place to play,” Pinkel said, “and now it’s going to be better.”

Few doubting SEC move now

In no uncertain terms, Alden admitted the scope of the upgrades announced Tuesday had a direct correlation with Mizzou’s move to the SEC.

“We already had a plan in place to continue to improve our facilities and grow,” Alden said. “But the speed and scope changed dramatically when he joined the SEC.”

MU chancellor Brady Deaton said he’s been receiving positive feedback from alums, most of whom are excited about the move to a new conference.

“It’s a good time for the University of Missouri,” said Deaton, who has been speaking to alums in several states recently due to a busy travel schedule. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm about the move.”

That said, Alden was hopeful the school could send the renderings and plans to the SEC sometime Tuesday night, just so the league’s head honchos could see how committed they are to stepping up.

“They absolutely are very excited to have us as a part of the group, but I’m sure they’re probably thinking ‘do these guys understand what it takes to step up’?” Alden said. “But when they see this kind of work coming out of the chute, I would hope that would tell them 'Yeah, Mizzou is serious.''”

More on the Kansas City Sports Trust

When Alden announced the school had received a $30 million “major private gift” from the Kansas City Sports Trust on Tuesday, many wondered who the individuals were behind it.

Alden was asked about it several times, refusing to names name and only offering the following:

“It’s been set up by a family in Kansas City, and they’ve donated money before – this is not their first gift – they’ve given another gift of over $10 million to us for our athletic training complex and other gifts to Mizzou for a total of a little over $49 million,” Alden said.

Alden later clarified his statement, saying it came from a group of individuals rather than a family. The Kansas City Sports Trust, which is administered by the law firm of Stinson Morrison Hecker, previously gave a $10 million gift to the MU athletic department in 2004. That matched the third-largest gift in MU history at the time.

“It was a trust formed by people who wish to remain anonymous but were interested then, and continue to be interested in, supporting the athletic programs at the University of Missouri,” said Mark Foster, the trustee of the Kansas City Sports Trust and former managing partner at Stinson Morrison Hecker.

“We’ve never disclosed information about our donations one way or the other.”

But while the people behind the Kansas City Sports Trust wish to remain anonymous – a noble gesture, indeed – Alden was quick to praise the group for a donation that figures to play a massive role in the school’s planned facilities upgrades.

“I thought that was pretty special to know that coming right out of Kansas City was the second-biggest gift ever given in the history of Missouri,” Alden said.

But just how will the money be used? Alden explained:

“It was not designated by the Sports Trust to go to any particular project,” Alden said. “The Sports Trust is saying ‘Look, we know that you’re going to have to really ramp up your facilities going into the SEC, we want to be able to donate $30 million toward your effort.’ We were then able to could comfortably say we could also borrow $72 million for a total of $102 million. But the Sports Trust knows it’s going to also help tennis and baseball and golf and softball, as well as football.”

Basically, Alden said, with the donation of $30 million and the borrowing of $72 million they can “go ahead and come out of the chutes with $102 million worth of work.”

The $72 million the school is borrowing for the first phase of the project will initially be paid for with revenue bonds and will ultimately be paid back with revenue generated from additional premium seating at Memorial Stadium.

When asked whether he was confident Missouri will be able to sell out the additional seats that are currently being planned, Alden said he was, citing a study done by a national company that’s done market studies for the university in the past.

“In their study, what they predicted for us made us very confident in our ability to be able to generate support in premium seating and additional seating,” Alden said.

He also cited the fact that season ticket sales for this upcoming season are far ahead of where they were last season.

“We’re a little over 95 percent of last year’s season ticket sales renewed, which is a big number,” Alden said. “I think we’re ahead somewhere between 16 to 18 percent of where we last year (in terms of) season ticket sales. So if that plays out, I believe we’ll be at 20 percent more than last year.”

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.

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