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May 26, 2011

Part 4: Facilties upgrades among top priorities

In the fourth and final installment of this interview, Barnhart discusses the future of UK's athletic facilities, from basketball arena talks to Commonwealth Stadium renovations.

PART FOUR

Brett Dawson: I can't believe we've gotten this deep into the conversation without me asking about a basketball arena, so let's dive into that. Has anything changed? Is there anything new?

Mitch Barnhart: No. The committee is working. I've met with a couple of the committees. I'd say by the end of December there's supposed to be some recommendations that come back in some way, shape or form. We're working our way through that. The city says that they're going to have a plan, and we'll see what they come back with and work our way through the details when they come back with it. If I had to hedge bets, I couldn't give you a read one way or the other as to what would happen. I think there's logistical issues, financial issues, city concerns for how all this plays out for the city. There are a lot of things they have to think about, and we'll see where it goes.

BD: Is there any thought if they come back and recommend to renovate Rupp Arena that you guys would say, 'Maybe we look on-campus. Maybe we look away from downtown?'

MB: I think you've got to look at all options. When you talk about the future of your program for the next 30 to 50 years, that's a big decision. My job, first and foremost, is to make sure this basketball program has got what it needs to be successful in terms of resources. That is a multi-faceted piece for us. As closely as I can dovetail it in there, we want to make sure that it's also good for the city of Lexington, but the University of Kentucky is my first concern. Our obligation is to make sure that this basketball program represents this university and this Commonwealth at the highest level, and I take that part of the conversation pretty seriously.


BD: So, on-campus is not off the table?

MB: We don't want to get to that spot. We want to be good citizens, work closely with the city. It's been a good relationship for 25, 30 years. It's good for Lexington. So that's priority one, to find a way to make that work. If that becomes unworkable, then you've got to say, 'What are our options?'

BD: Is it safe to say that you and John Calipari are hoping that what they come back with is a new arena, or are you open to some sort of renovation plan?

MB: I promised I'd come into this thing with an open mind. I've been vocal about a new arena. So to say that has not been on the forefront of my brain would not be truthful. So it probably is my first thought. But I promised, and I will hold true to it, that I will come into this with an open mind.

BD: On the way here, I drove by your track, which is not so much a track as it is bulldozers and dirt, but that project is underway. What's next once that's complete?

MB: Well, we've got a feasibility study going on right now that has to do with the football stadium renovation, baseball and softball renovations. Those three things are the next things in my mind. That's what I'm working on next. Clearly, we've got to do some work on our indoor tennis facility. That's important to us. We've got a golf house project that we're working on as well, which we're trying to locate out at our golf course at the University Club. Those are the four or five things that are out there facility-wise for us.

BD: How extensive a thing are you looking at with football? Is this an expansion? Just a renovation?

MB: It depends. We've said, 'Give us two or three different thoughts here.' We'll see what they come back with. It's renovation to the point of club seats, suites, the recruiting room, whatever you want to call it, multi-purpose room, in there. Pricewise, I don't know what that looks like. Is it a quarter of a billion? I hope not. I'm thinking something less than that. I think we can get some significant things done for a lot less than that. So we're working our way through that.

BD: There was a time when there was some discussion that you might move softball over to Cliff Hagan and you might build a new baseball park. Is that still on the table?

MB: We think we're going to go a different direction now. What we've found is that movement of those caused a significant uptick in the price, in terms of fields and those things. We think we can do some cool things, and that's what we've asked this group to come back with: give us some really good ideas that give us a chance to change the face - if you walked in, you wouldn't know where you were - for softball and baseball. (Softball coach) Rachel (Lawson) likes where she is. She enjoys that setting down there. Our fans sort of like it. Baseball has got a good backdrop. We've probably got to enlarge our park a little bit, do some things with our fences, redirect the stuff down the sideline. I think we're thinking more in terms of, if we could add value to what we have right there, we'd be better off.

BD: All that costs money…

MB: It does.

BD: We've talked a lot in the past about generating revenue and where new revenue streams come from. What kind of challenges are you facing financially now that you are in a position where a lot of facilities things need to be done?

MB: There are two or three things you look at. People don't realize, we've done about $80 million in capital projects, and we've done them all in cash. We're pretty much debt-free. We don't have a lot of debt in our program, so we have some room for some bonding capacity. We've got some room to help there. That's one area. We have not really run a capital campaign here, per se, because the university was in the middle of a major campaign, and we wanted to honor that, make sure we weren't in the way of that. And then the third thing is, we've got friends of each one of those programs that we think we can go to very specifically and ask them for help. We want to be good stewards of our money. We're trying not to be out there where we're capturing a lot of debt, but we do have room to have some of that in our program.

BD: I'll let you be an idealist here and tell me the year when you'd like to see a dramatic change at Commonwealth Stadium.

MB: What year are we in? '11? I think if you're realistic in terms of financing, I think '13 would be absolutely the earliest. '14 is probably more realistic. If it's magnificently different, '14 is probably what you're going to have to look at, because it's going to take you a year to plan it. It depends on what they come back with.

BD: You mentioned earlier that basketball took care of some of the academic questions it had. How do you feel about where you are academically as an athletic program?

MB: When we got here the GPA (for athletes) was 2.6, something like that, 2.7. We were 2.97 this term. We've been hovering right around 2.95. We've been over 3.0 one time. I'd like to be over 3.0 all the time. Football's the big mover in that. If football jumps up a tenth of a point, it makes all the difference in the world for us. If they're at 2.5, 2.6, we're probably going to be at 3.0. If they're below 2.5, we're probably going to be just under (3.0). There's too many involved in that sport.

Academically, APR-wise, our kids are making progress toward a degree. Our graduation rate when we got here was low 40 percents. Now we're consistently in that 60 percent range. Last year we were at 67. We're back down to about 60 this year. We had one (graduating) class we had to add into that group. But our overall four-year rolling average and our (Graduation Success Rate) continues to go up every year, which is a good sign. That means we're doing the things we need to be doing. So I feel good about where we are academically. Sandy Bell sort of spearheads overall our compliance/academics/training room/student affairs kind of stuff. She has really challenged our CATS group, our CATS staff, through Bob Bradley and all those folks, to really work hard in that area.

The progress-toward-a-degree requirements the NCAA makes has also helped move that up a little bit. That has moved it. Now, what it does is, it sometimes puts kids in majors they don't really want to be in and they can never get out of. Once you're in it, you're in it. So you may graduate with a degree that you really didn't anticipate wanting. You might have an interest over here but because of your schedule you just didn't get there. So you end up graduating in something completely different, but you did get your degree. So I'm pleased with where we are academically. We've got a lot of kids walking, a lot of kids getting their degree. We've also got a lot of kids coming back that are outside the window, that are coming back to get their degrees, that will not count for us. Unfortunately, they will never count for us, and that disappoints me, because we're still trying to make sure they get their degree. And they're going to get it. We've got a lot of kids doing that. So that encourages me, and we're certainly supportive of all those efforts. I think academically we're in good shape. We're working hard at it.

BD: Does it bother you that Enes Kanter would count against your APR had he not done what he needed to do in finishing out the semester?

MB: That's an amazing deal. That's all you can say about that is that's amazing.

BD: I don't know if you needed any vindication for the things that Bob Knight said about your basketball program, but did the basketball APR give you any of that?

MB: I don't think you give much credence to people that don't know the truth. I feel bad for him that he took shots at kids that he didn't need to take shots at. I feel bad for the kids. One thing I guess I've learned in this role is, go on. Let that go. Be appreciative of what we're doing and the people that are doing it with us. I'm not going to get into the personalities of all that and let personal things get in the way of what we say or do. We've got good people here that are really working hard at it. He's going to have his opinions and that's fine.

BD: You talked about your contract and maybe lining Cal's up with yours. Yours is 2019, eight more years. Is that about right? Do you see yourself going that long? Going longer than that?

MB: That would get me to 60. Boy. That'd be almost 23 years as an AD. Yeah. That's an interesting thought. I don't know. You don't know what the future holds. I think that gives me the timeframe to get some of these things done, these projects, that I want to get done, the arena conversation. My goal is to get a lot of this stuff put in place so that the next guy who comes along behind me doesn't have to do worry about some of the stuff that I've had to take on, that things are all there and we've got coaches solidly in place, which we do right now. We've got really good coaches. And then (the next athletic director) can fine-tune it, so to speak.

We've been doing foundational work here for a long time, just building the foundation, the framework for our organization. Now we've got to continue to start putting the bricks one on top of the other to give us a chance. You never say never. Our oldest child is going to college next year. He's got one year left in high school, then he's gone. I'm hopeful that at that point in time she would be able to travel with me a little bit and maybe go to some of these things and do some of these things together that I've been doing singularly for 25, 30 years. Having said that, when I go to Africa and I see what I see, my heart breaks. I'd be less than honest with you if I didn't tell you there's a piece of me that wants to find something that moves the needle for people, and I don't know what that is.

BD: We started talking about that trip to Africa, and I wanted to end on that. I've always gotten the impression that, maybe like Tony Dungy in a way, you've always thought there was something beyond this for you. Is that fair to say, that you're eventually looking past the athletics horizon?

MB: There's no question about that. One of the folks (in Ethiopia) said it best. In very broken English they said, 'We appreciate that you want to support us financially, but what we love is that you love us and that you care for us, that there's a relationship there and you're not afraid to get your hands dirty.' I think what people want today is, they want to know that you care. There's a lot of ways you can show that, but the greatest way is that you spend time with them and that you hug them and you do something to genuinely help them.

There are so many people in need, and this is a platform for our athletes and coaches and for me and my staff to impact those people. We'll use that the right way. At the end of the day, I love what Tony Dungy does. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty and help people. I think that's where I'll be led to go. I think probably that's what God's called me to do at the end of this deal. I think. I may be wrong. We'll see. But for now, my job is to lead this program and to give our coaches and our athletes the best chance to be successful and educate them on ways that they can impact and do a better job in their generation than we did in ours.


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