UK football notebook: Barnhart says bowl worth it, despite deficit

Game's value to cats worth it, A.D. says hurt ticket sales

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMarch 6, 2011 

The final score wasn't the only thing that didn't look good during the University of Kentucky's trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 8.

The Cats took a 27-10 beating on the field, and the Birmingham News reported last week that's UK wallet also took a beating.

According to the report, UK lost $276,000 on the bowl trip. The SEC, which has a policy in place to minimize financial losses for bowl appearances among its member schools, picked up $150,000 of the tab.

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said finances are only a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to bowl games.

"We knew going in that it would be difficult to match the revenues with the expenses," he said. "Our goals for this event were to continue our presence in post-season play, as we are one of 28 schools that have gone to five consecutive bowls, and win another bowl game. We didn't get the win, but our players and coaches got several weeks of additional practice and another game of experience, which will help our team as we move into spring practice and the 2011 season."

Barnhart cited several factors that could have affected the final numbers, one being the late date of the game.

"That made it much more difficult to sell tickets," he said. "People had returned to work after the holidays, and the elementary and high schools were in session, which made travel for families much more difficult."

And the BBVA Compass Bowl had the lowest payout by far of all the SEC-affiliated bowls at $900,000. The Liberty and Music City bowls paid $1.7 and $1.6 million, respectively. There was also a seven-week gap between the end of the regular season and the bowl game as opposed to the usual four- or five-week window, which Barnhart said created additional expenses.

Barnhart did note that while the school sold only 4,460 tickets, there were more UK fans at the game. The attendance at Legion Field was announced at 41,207, and Kentucky supporters vastly outnumbered those from Pitt.

"A number of fans bought tickets directly from the bowl or other sources, and we appreciate everyone who made the trip to support our team," Barnhart said.

Cats to open on a Thursday

Another piece of news that developed last week was an announcement from Western Kentucky that its season opener with UK at Nashville's LP Field has moved from Sat. Sept. 3 to Thurs. Sept. 1. The game was moved to accommodate Tennessee State, the priority college tenant at LP Field. Tennessee State's opener is Sept. 3. Barnhart said he knew this was a possibility and that the original contract stated the game could be played on Thursday.

Barnhart said the game could have been played on a Sunday, but there would have been potential issues with a torn-up field from the TSU game a day earlier. It also would have given UK a short week of preparation before its home opener against Central Michigan on Sept. 10.

Game times and TV options are still being finalized. Western Kentucky will serve as the home team. It's the second game of a four-year contract between the schools. UK beat Western 63-28 at Commonwealth Stadium last fall. The Hilltoppers will return to Lexington in 2012, and the two teams will play again in Nashville in 2013.

The game will mark UK's first weekday game since a 38-23 loss at South Carolina in a Thursday night matchup on Oct. 4, 2007.

First 2012 commitments

Kentucky landed its first two recruits for the 2012 class when in-staters Josh Harris and Thomas Chapman committed during UK's Junior Day last weekend. UK was the first to offer Harris, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound running back/linebacker for Mason County. Chapman, a 6-4, 290-pound defensive tackle from Manual, is recovering from a torn ACL suffered during his junior season.

In an era where prospects extend the recruiting process as long as possible and bring hats (and even animals) on national signing day, Mason County Coach David Buchanan said Harris is a different breed.

"Josh Harris is not like everybody else; he's a very independent thinker," Buchanan said. "He doesn't go along with the flow. He does what he thinks is the best thing, the right thing. I was kind of surprised when he committed, because I didn't even know he had been offered, but that's what Josh is like.

He's excited about UK. He went on and on about their staff. He feels really good about it."

Buchanan thinks Harris' best position at the next level is strong safety.

"He's very intelligent, he's a 4.0 student and he's got great football instincts," Buchanan said. "He's a great guy to have in charge of the secondary. He's very athletic, he can cover and can also come in the box as a run stopper. I know a lot of coaches liked him at running back because he's so hard to bring down, but he gets to the ball better than any kid I've ever coached. That's a special skill. It's a lot like (former Mason County two-way star) Chris Lofton. He could have been a college wide receiver, but he was the best shooter in the country. Josh Harris can be a great running back, but when you got the best nose for the football of anybody I've seen, it's hard not to put that kind of talent on defense."

Buchanan credited UK linebackers coach Chuck Smith with reeling in Harris early.

"Chuck has done a great job with Josh Harris," Buchanan said. "If you talk to our kids, there's nobody that's been better organized than Chuck in recruiting and following kids."

Cats help cause at combine

Kentucky's Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke had strong showings at the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis last Sunday and were listed as two of the draft's risers by SI.com.

Cobb ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds, a vast improvement over the 4.55 he ran last year at UK's Pro Day. SI.com also lauded him for his route-running in drills and projected him as a second-round pick. Cobb was also projected as a second-round pick by the Sporting News, which compared him to the Pittsburgh Steelers' Hines Ward.

Locke was officially timed at 4.40 in the 40-yard dash, which was a little slower than expected but still tied for third-best among the 32 backs who ran. SI.com also mentioned Locke as one of the risers in the draft based on his performance. Locke is expected to run again at UK's Pro Day on Thursday.

Autograph opportunity

Locke and another ex-Wildcat, Ricky Lumpkin, will sign autographs at Southside Pub on Boston Road from 2:30-4:30 p.m. on Sunday. Photographs will be available to purchase or fans can have their own merchandise signed for $5.

Chip Cosby covers UK football for the Herald-Leader. This article includes his opinions and observations. He can be reached by e-mail at ccosby@herald-leader.com.

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