UK needed stadium renovation to get recruits

Construction progresses at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., on Thursday, April 17, 2014. Photo by Adam Pennavaria

In return for more than $165 million of investments in the UK football program, Mark Stoops and his staff have turned an atmosphere of mediocrity into a promise of prosperity.

The football program has struggled to reach the pinnacle of success of the SEC, but the renovation of Commonwealth Stadium should help.

With the additions of a new press box, loge box seats, clubs seats, a new recruiting room, suites, expanded concourses and a brand new exterior facade, the hope is that recruits will notice the investment being placed into football, and in return, forgo scholarship offers from SEC powerhouse programs like Alabama and Louisiana State University.

This will be the second renovation of the stadium since its construction in 1973. The first was in 1999 and included 40 suites and the enclosure of both ends of the stadium.

Since that renovation, UK’s record at Commonwealth Stadium has been an underwhelming 53-55. In contrast, Tennessee, since 1999, has a home record of 78-33 and perpetual SEC juggernaut Alabama has a home record of 81-24.

The optimism surrounding the program has increased since UK announced it was supporting Stoops’ vision for the program. In response, the university is updating the football training facility as well as the stadium, and since that announcement, UK has seen a flood of talented recruits spurning Power 5 programs for UK.

Signs point to UK seeing marginal improvement this season. Fresh off a 5-6 record in 2014, the influx of talent this year directly coincides with the facility upgrades.

The recruiting class of 2015 was ranked No. 38 in the nation, and the 2016 class has risen as high as No. 17 after the recent commitments of offensive tackle Landon Young and center Drake Jackson. The trend should continue if UK continues to show promise.

During UK’s media day on Aug. 6, the response from players regarding the university’s investment was overwhelming in its support.

“It’s beautiful,” sophomore receiver Blake Bone said as he looked at the surrounding seats of Commonwealth Stadium. “They put millions and millions of dollars in this place and the least we can do is win games here.”

That’s what UK’s athletic program hopes will happen. After years of residing in obscurity, the thought is that shiny, new toys will lure prospects who want to play for a reputable program. And what’s better at displaying that notion than throwing millions into upgrades.

Players would rather drive around in a new Ferrari than a beat-up Volvo.

“We are really excited about those projects,” UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart said during Media Day. “We are all in. We are just trying to give us the best opportunity to compete in the great conference that we are in.”

The future of UK’s football program seems to be as bright as the sun reflecting off the glass panels lining the press box. When the new two-story football training facility is complete, UK’s amenities will rival those of top programs.

The pressure on Stoops to deliver a proven commodity will increase ten-fold after huge investments from the athletic department silenced all arguments about lagging facilities.

The football program has the facilities, it just now needs the results.