How do you feel about the idea being tossed around about seven wins as a requirement for a bowl game?
"I don't think that's good for us. Clearly, I don't think it's good for our league either. Because of our league, you're going to have some 6-6 teams in there that are going to want to go to bowl games and I think we're good for the bowl system. To be 6-6 coming out of this league, you're going to have some of that. I think it diminishes our league and it diminishes opportunities for the teams in our leage to get to bowls and I don't want to do that."
Football-wise, it seems like the momentum here is at 6-1-1 for scheduling. Does that work for you?
"Clearly, those conversations are ongoing with the league. But that's where I would like to be. I think that's good for Kentucky. When you are in a spot where you're building your program, you want the flexibility to say when you're ready to compete at a different level, then you can go schedule the nonconference at a different level. You say 'OK, I think we're going to be at a different spot here, we'll go schedule a little bit differently here.' And maybe we need to schedule a little differently when it's 'OK, we're not going to be as good here.' We can get more flexibility. If you put nine games in there, that puts you at a really different spot. Then, I think competitively, it becomes very different. I think it puts at risk within the conference, it puts at risk some of those great rivalries you've got. Outside the league, it puts those rivalries at risk that we've all got."
So nine games would put your rivalry with Louisville at risk?
"It would put a lot of them at risk. I think it puts a lot of them at risk. You have South Carolina in the same situation with Clemson, Florida-Florida State, Kentucky-Louisville. All those games, if you say 'How can we play nine and still do that?' It starts to put that stuff at risk. All of a sudden you have the schedule with five and four, where one year you have five (home games) and one year you have four (home games). How do you make all that balance out? There's some financial things to that as well as competitive pieces to it that really become tough."
You talked about debt bonding and Commonwealth Stadium. Are there any plans for that, any movement towards anything there?
"Yeah, we talk about that all the time. We were just talking about that at length over here (with university president Eli Capilouto), about the things we want to do. Clearly, our president has some designs on what he wants to do on campus and how we fit into that master planning. Yeah, there are some things in there whether we're talking about suites or club suites or a new press box for the media, which is so important (laughing). Air conditioning, that's all I hear. Or a multipurpose (recruiting) room or offices, how does that stuff fit in the master plan? I think we're going to get to it sooner rather than later. I think that's coming. We certainly want to get it on the books as fast as we can and how we get that financed is part of that conversation."
Do you feel handcuffed in financing things?
"Yeah, we have been handcuffed and the good news out of the conversation with our president, he says he wants to take those handcuffs off us. He wants to figure out a way to help us. And it wasn't because the people in the past didn't help; I think there was a misnomer. There were some roadblocks in there somewhere, and we've had multiple conversations recently between what's going on in Frankfort, and what Frankfort wants and what we want, all that stuff. This president is committed to helping us get that freed up and get going, which is great news."
Cal said something the other day, essentially saying 'Whatever they decide with Rupp Arena, I'm fine. Whatever they want to do is OK.' Now that he's getting what he wants out of the locker rooms, he feels like he's in a good place. Are you that relaxed about Rupp Arena?
"No, I'm not that relaxed about it. Relaxed might not be a good word. I will do what I think is in the best interest of Kentucky. Right now, we have a contract that runs through 2018 and we'll wait on that. We have not agreed or are a part of any financing model that would put us in place for anything different than what we're doing now. Renovated or new. Now, if they want to come to us and say 'This is what we want to do,' we're the main tenant in that building and if they want to come to me and the president and say 'Does this meet your competitive and your financial needs going forward?' then we can decided what we want to do.
"Right now, there's nothing new on the table that gives us any reason to make a decision one way or the other. The goal in the end is to make sure that we have an arena that meets the competitive nature of what we need for John in his group. Two, to make sure that our fans are served well, whatever that might mean in terms of amenities and things fans look for in today's world. Thirdly, as important as first two, it meets our financial base requirements of what we need to go forward. We put those pieces in the puzzle and now we can talk. We're not anywhere close to a spot where we can do that. We're still a long ways away."
So the ball is in their court at this point?
"I think so, yeah."
Do you want to play Indiana?
"We've left two days open for that. DeWayne has been a part of all those conversations. I think what we put on the website was very accurate in terms of what's been said. It's been disappointing. I've been in this thing 30 years. It's not that hard. We worked through dates, and I don't want to play stuff out in the public. I don't think that's the way you do business. I don't think that's the way you do that stuff. I'm certainly not going to get in to all that. Are we committed to the series? We tried to play for the next two years and DeWayne made that very clear in his conversations with the Indiana guys. We're not interested in a four-year deal at this time because we want to keep some flexibility in our schedule going forward. We think two years is probably enough at this point in time with where we are with our basketball program to go out and get into it.
"We've got two dates, the 15th and the 22nd. We talked about a game at Lucas Oil Stadium and if there's interest in their part, time's running out. We need to go ahead and get this thing done if we're going to get it done. We'll figure that out. It's been a great series but there's also some other things we want to do with our schedule and we're doing that and the requirements that we've got from a department perspective financially, we have to make sure we're able to meet to keep that program moving forward. Everybody has to remember: two programs make money. That feeds all 20. So it's really important to keep that in mind. I have to make sure those two stay full. In order to do that, there are certain things that John is looking for competitively, things we're looking for financially this year to make that thing work. You know, preservation of tradition, we want to do that. That's why we're playing North Carolina, Duke, Kansas. That's why we played IU and we're willing to play. We made that very clear. Then we got a response back through the mail which was sort of
different than what I would normally get. But that's OK. We're still there and we would be willing to put that in play if that's something they still want to do and move along."
It seems clear from the statement, you don't want campus sites.
"Not at this point."
Is that a financial decision? Did the experience of playing this year factor into that at all?
"I think each atmosphere is unique on college campuses. We manage our stuff at Rupp and I feel like we've got a great atmosphere for college basketball. I think Assembly Hall is a great atmosphere for college basketball, it's just different. And that's OK. But there are financial pieces, there are competitive pieces. I made a comment about the number of tickets we got and I immediately got a text from Tom (Crean) saying 'Was it just about tickets? We can help with tickets.' It's more than that.
"I think there's an environment we want to create when people come to Rupp Arena, and I would hope we'd be treated the same way when we go on the road. Was it tough up there this year? Yeah, it was tough. It wasn't easy. The court was rushed - and that's OK, it's happened to us before. It happened to us at South Carolina. You beat Kentucky, people rush the court. That's not a big deal to us. The reality is, if we give up the campus series, we give up them coming back to our campus this year. So in a year everybody says 'You should want to play them on campus. They're going to be really good and you can play them at your place.' No, we'd rather do something neutral.
"We're willing to give that up for a couple reasons. One, John wants to play at the neutral sites. A couple big neutral sites, football fields because that's where Final Fours are being played now. Two, from a fan perspective, we can get more of our fans in there on a regular basis, some of the people who might not maybe get in up in Lexington. My concern, I talked to Cal about this, is to make sure that we have enough games in Rupp Arena so that our season ticket holders get some quality games as well. I wanted to make sure we get the league games and a set of games so it makes sense."
Are you surprised at how this whole process has played out?
"Yeah, a little bit. A little puzzled by that. But that's OK. I've been an AD for 15 years and it's sort of like scar tissue. I don't feel much anymore. People are going to try and hurt my feelings or beat me up, and I don't listen much. Now, don't walk out here and say 'Mitch doesn't listen.' I hear what people are saying, but I don't let it affect what I'm doing. I'm going to make the best decision for us. They can do what they want to me personally, but I will never take it personally. I'm going to move on and do what I think is best for our program. If people think they're going to win a public deal with me, I don't respond to that well. A little surprised, but I guess I shouldn't be."
Anything you'd like to add?
"Well, it's been a fun year. It's been an amazing year. I want to make sure we keep this about our kids. When I think about an A'dia Mathies or an Eric Quigley, both of them being SEC athletes of the year from Louisville, Kentucky, it's pretty cool. We're going to honor that in some way, shape or form. I think having four SEC coaches of the year, I think we've had three SEC athletes in the year. I'm not sure in the history of our program if we've ever had that. I can't remember if that's ever happened.
"We always get caught up in stuff like Rupp Arena and Indiana and all those other conversations but for me, it still gets back to that stuff. That's what it ends up getting back to because those people where you can point at all that other stuff, at the end of the day, those kids have done some pretty cool things. We have the freshman of the year in baseball, the freshman of the year in women's basketball, freshman of the year in men's basketball. I don't know if there have been that many accolades for our program in any one single year. My point is, it's easy to get caught up in that stuff because that's what athletic directors get asked about an awful lot. I take great pride in those pieces, and I never want to lose sight of that."
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now for a FREE Trial