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Dear Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart:
Fresh off of a disconcerting loss to SEC newcomer Missouri, for its first ever conference victory, it’s time to come out of the woodwork and speak.
The Kernel, as well as other local media, recently has been denied comment from you regarding the state of the football program.
Currently sitting 1-8, its state is well known. But, the questions that need answering deal with your thoughts on how this season has come to be.
Yes, injuries have played a factor in what the Cats have been able to do, but all teams must play the cards they’re dealt when bit by the injury bug.
UK football head coach Joker Phillips, now in his third season, has had opportunities to turn the Cats into his mainstay.
However, the progression of the Cats’ best recruiting classes hasn’t translated to the on-field collegiate product. In recent seasons, teams such as Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Mississippi State have gone from UK’s bottom-of-the-rung companions to elevating their stature beyond that of the Cats’.
The additions of Missouri and Texas A&M should be taking your level of concern beyond where it seems to be with the lack of communication between public and administration.
Although the Tigers appear to be somewhat behind the SEC talent pool compared with the Aggies, they both enter already prepared to contend.
That’s something UK isn’t capable of doing, as the loss to Western Kentucky showed.
Comments in past weeks by Phillips have made what the public already assumed known, which is that the relationship of him and you stretches beyond the business side, to that a of normal friendship. Is anything wrong with that? No.
Nothing is wrong with that, as long as it doesn’t hamper decision-making abilities.
Fans like Phillips, media like Phillips, I like Phillips. It’s been said countless times — he is a nice guy. But, being a nice guy doesn’t necessarily mean someone should be granted a pass when he clearly isn’t getting the job done on the gridiron.
Give Phillips the courtesy of getting fans’ respect by coming to an agreement that allows him to walk away from his coaching title, finish the season, and then move on with a coaching search.
Additionally, during your time as athletic director, the university has seen its athletic programs soar. The men’s basketball team is among the best — if not the best — in the nation in the past five seasons.
The UK Hoops team has gone from a non-factor in women’s basketball to one of the premier teams in the country. The baseball program has competed throughout the years. The softball team has hit new heights with the addition of head coach Rachel Lawson, including hosting a Super Regional. UK track and field obtained one of the nation’s best coaches in Edrick Floreal, formerly of Stanford. Both men’s and women’s soccer have become contenders, far from an afterthought as they were years ago.
All of those strides aren’t to be lost under the fact that the facilities of those programs have been vastly improved, shifting them into discussions of being among the nation’s best.
But what about football? It’s the SEC — the Donald Trump of NCAA conferences. Outside of Kentucky, basketball is an afterthought in what is considered football country.
Yet the football team doesn’t reap the rewards of being one of the highest grossing programs in the NCAA.
As was approved by the Board of Trustees in June, the 2012 athletics department’s budget planned for $29.6 million in football revenue and $27.6 million in 2013.
Albeit declining, that ranks in the top quarter of collegiate budgets.
Vanderbilt’s making use of its funds to upgrade facilities, while fans in the Athens of the West are watching their stadium deteriorate like Parthenon. That’s not to mention the circulating image of a recruiting room reminiscent of what families reserve at a restaurant for a reunion.
When that previously mentioned budget was released, you said, “We’ve tried to be smart about how we’ve budgeted. Regardless of where football is, I don’t think we would ever — in terms of revenue — not prepare well.”
If that’s the case, then why spend $300,000 on a spectacle of lights for Big Blue Madness? While it’s pennies on the dollar, a mere $50,000 of that could be helpful in electrifying Commonwealth Stadium on game day. Give the team flashy uniforms. Create a memorable intro. I’m just giving suggestions for where that money can be allotted.
The time to reward the university’s breadwinner is now. Years of unstable mediocrity are needlessly occurring.
Take your turn, step up to the podium and make the move.
Cody Porter, Kentucky Kernel sports editor