Everything has it's price, right? I mean if you want something great, you are going to have to give up something else, aren't you? There are no free rides. So it brings me to this question. Has Football paid the price to make everyone else better at UK? Let us illuminate the possibilities.
Reading some new football analysis brought me to ask myself this question and I am really struggling with what I have found my answers to be. I want to use a bit of a "timeline" for this (I know, as much as I hate this site renovation and now I am stealing terms from it). So let's go back to the beginning. Because in the beginning there was UK, and UK was without form.
July 15,2002- Kentucky hires Mitch Barnhart to succeed Larry Ivy after Ivy oversees what some consider to be a less than stellar two year period when Ivy succeeded C.M. Newton, the Godfather of all AD's. Ivy expected his stay to be longer, but when you let some things happen that Ivy did, you ain't gonna last long. When Ivy was AD, his budget was 36M per annum. That number is important for a lot of reasons, some of which we will come back to, just remember it for future reference.
So Barnhart comes in, and he inherits an athletic department in what was widely considered to be complete disarray. Ivy knew that Basketball was king at UK, and he didn't want the status quo changed. Ivy was a Kentucky boy through and through, and had been with UK in some capacity since 1969. So when Barnhart was hired, the general consensus was that he was going to be facing a struggle. And he was, and for the most part, still is, just for different reasons. This is where the wheels really begin to turn.
Late 2002- Barnhart starts changing the UK world. He hires curmegeonly Rich "Papa" Brooks to take over a decimated football squad that is in dire need of an identity and direction. Barnhart and Guy Morris couldn't see eye to eye on money, so Morris decided UK was not the place he wanted to be. Brooks had been one of Barnhart's men at Oregon, and had helped change their culture into one that now flourishes in college football. Barnhart's wager was that Brooks could do the same at UK. Unfortunately for Barnhart, no one told him how the world really works before he hired Brooks. Fortunately for Barnhart, Brooks didn't handle not getting what he wanted well.The facilities upgrades and improvements never materialized, but Brooks found a way to win anyway.
Brooks took four years to turn applesauce into apple pie, with the help of creative scheduling, tireless recruiting by the man now in charge of the program, Joker Phillips, and the luck of just being right about how to sniff out talent and mold it into hardened steel. Brooks pushed and shoved, prodded and screamed, until finally in his fourth year the Cats started showing signs of life with a 7-5 record in 2006. All of this was right out in the public eye for everyone to see. What wasn't out there was, and is, what has been going on since day one when Barnhart took his post.
Barnhart has a goal. It has been his goal for quite some time, but he made it a priority in 2009. The motto "15X15X15" is scattered across all offices of the Athletic Department. They still hang there to this day. That's because the goal has not quite been met yet. 15X15X15 stands for 15 championships and being a top 15 university by 2015. As of today, UK has 14 of those by my count since Barnhart took over, with Basketball providing a lot of them, but not all. Barnhart decided to do something that no one had ever done at Kentucky. He decided to "spread the wealth". I know, it's a communist idea according to some of you, but nonetheless, it has been a successful one.
Successful that is, unless you are the UK Football program. Football money has been channeled into other sports at UK at much higher rates under Barnharts term than any other AD in UK history. Barnhart set out to make UK Athletics a "balanced" operation, and he has done just that. Barnhart now controls over 90M per annum. Yes, that's right, over 90M. And you know what is bizarre about that statement? UK only ranks in the middle of the pack when it comes to Athletic budgets in the SEC. In the 10+ years that Barnhart has been at UK, he has seen his budget triple, and now Barnhart distributes wealth better than any politician in Washington. Women's athletics now take priority at UK. Men's programs like baseball, that languished with little to no operating funds in the past, are now running at full speed and are making progress in the SEC and everywhere else. You didn't think last year's Women's Basketball SEC Championship came cheap did you? Matthew Mitchell is one of the highest paid coaches in the SEC. Football helps fill the bill.
Care to guess where our "other" shortfall comes from? All you have to do is look about 100 miles down the road at "little brother". UofL pours over 40M into their Athletic department budget every year. UK puts $0 into UK Athletics. Never has, never will. Anyone doing the math as we go? Remember how I asked you to keep up with the $36M budget that Barnhart inherited? UofL gets more than that just from the University, and then the money the department gets from revenue kicks in. Anyone think 40M a year could change UK Football? I certainly do.
Barnhart has done a wonderful thing at UK. He has made champions in almost every area of athletics, but he has paid for it on the back of the football program. He had to. I don't find fault with Barnhart for it, it was a judgment call. Does he allow money to continue to go back into football every year, where it will most likely be wasted, or does he funnel some money through to where he can do some good with it by improving other sports to the point where they can do become successful? Barnhart chose to roll the dice and change the rest of the UK world first, and it has paid off. All except the gridiron.
October-2012 Barnhart now faces a serious dilemma. His much ballyhooed football revenue is drying up faster that the Sahara, because the fans are trying to hurt UK where they will feel it the most, in their wallets. There's just one problem with that theory. If the fans succeed in their plan to force UK to change the head coach, they may very well begin to cripple some of the successful programs that Barnhart has made into his "Champions". Was he wrong? you decide. For my money, I applaud Barnhart's efforts, and I understand his vision. I just wish that 40M was being kicked in. We could build facilities galore, hire coaches that we would have the infrastructure to support, and make football profitable again. A recipe for success? I believe it could be. And I know a lot of people who agree with me.