Vaught's Views: Barnhart supports athletics

May 17, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

During his 23 years in college athletics, Mitch Barnhart has seen the cost of operating a major college athletics program skyrocket.

He remembers Tennessee having a $9 million budget 15 years ago. Now it is $67 million. At Kentucky, where he became athletics director two years ago, the annual budget is now $51 million.

He's watched Arkansas spend $242 million on athletics expansion the last 12 years. He's seen Alabama recently embark on a $110 million facilities expansion.

"At Kentucky, we've only spent about $30 million on facilities in the last 10 years and most of that was for the football stadium expansion," Barnhart said. "The focus of my job is very different from what it used to be."


That's why he was here Sunday night speaking at the 27th Herbie McGuire Praying Colonels Invitational, a golf fundraiser for the Centre athletics department started by the former Centre coach. When Centre athletics director Brian Chafin asked him to come to Danville Country Club to talk about the importance of supporting college athletics, he said yes.

"They wanted to have someone just visit about what it means to have support for college athletics," Barnhart said. "Obviously, Centre College is at a little different level than the University of Kentucky, but the mission is still to support student-athletes and give them a chance to compete and take the next step in their lives.

"It doesn't change because of the level (of the school). I love to support intercollegiate athletics. I know what athletics means. Provided it is not for one of my competitors, I will try to help raise money for college athletics any time I can."

No "better feeling" than watching women's tennis team advance

Barnhart is a believer in college athletics, and not just the so-called big-time sports like football and men's basketball. While he's excited about the No. 1 recruiting class that Tubby Smith just finalized at Kentucky, Barnhart said he's not had a "better feeling" all year than watching the UK women's tennis team win Saturday in Boston to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

"I had more fun watching their passion and emotion and it was amazing to see the effort they gave," Barnhart said.

But he's also a regular at baseball and soccer. He's thrown enormous support to women's basketball. He's brought in a new baseball coach. This week he's going to watch his golf team try to qualify for the national championships.

No wonder he had a special appreciation for those at the dinner here Sunday night who were contributing money to Centre's athletics department.

Barnhart knows college athletics has had too many scandals. That's why he's proud that football coach Rich Brooks has helped his team's overall grade point average increase since he's been at UK from a 2.4 to a 2.69.

"I think the passion of our fans is great," Barnhart said. "I know we would all like to focus on football and basketball, but we have kids with remarkable stories in all our sports, just like Centre College does."

He has tried to change the "culture" at UK

He told the audience that he had tried to change the "culture" at Kentucky since his arrival. He's had to try to raise additional revenue, deal with NCAA sanctions from previous football problems and make athletes in so-called minor sports believe that he was going to give them the necessary resources to be competitive.

"To change a culture and mindset is difficult to do," Barnhart said. "It's been a long climb, but we want to change."

He tells all Kentucky athletes that putting on the UK jersey should mean something special to them because that is what makes college athletics special.

"Young people just want a chance to compete. It doesn't matter what level, they want a chance to compete," Barnhart said. "I applaud the people here for doing what they can to help Centre College.

"Athletics are important. It doesn't matter what level. It's all about providing opportunities for young people. That's what excites me and why I considered it an honor to be asked to come here and see what I could do to help Centre."

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