An end to UK-Louisville football series? Barnhart doesn't rule it out

Expansion could jeopardize UK-U of L football series

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 8, 2011 

University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart

Mitch Barnhart is just as eager as fans around the country to know how the shifting landscape of the Southeastern Conference is going to affect his programs at Kentucky.

How will the league's new additions of Missouri and Texas A&M change football scheduling? Will they mean divisions again in men's basketball?

Will UK be forced to make difficult scheduling decisions about an annual game with its biggest rival?

"You hear chatter about eight games," the UK athletics director said in a phone interview Monday. "You hear chatter about nine games, about how to split divisions, whether Missouri's going in the East."

Via Twitter on Monday, league spokesmen tried to clarify that the SEC would indeed stay with an eight-game conference football schedule next season, but nothing is set in stone.

If that nine-game conference schedule were to happen, would the annual Louisville game be in jeopardy?

"I don't know," Barnhart said matter-of-factly. "Clearly I want to do what's best for the University of Kentucky, but there's a real premium on non-conference scheduling as you go to look at your football schedule in total."

Frequently, he gets correspondence from fans asking for tougher non-conference opponents and a more rugged schedule.

"Everyone's fussing about our non-conference schedule," he said. "They're wanting us to play home and home against every superpower."

But series with teams such as Texas and Ohio State (two schools that have been suggested to him) aren't necessarily the responsible thing to do, he said.

"I want to give our fans a really attractive schedule as best we can — and the SEC always provides that, always provides that — and then beyond that, what does that mean for us?" Barnhart said. "I'm open to suggestions from the league and certainly will include my president and football coach in that conversation."

Athletics directors around the conference are waiting for direction from the league office about making the transition. Barnhart said the SEC has had a committee in place to handle these issues and that there will be meetings soon to discuss moving to a 14-team league.

The sooner the better, he said.

"We've got to have answers soon," he said. "We're getting to absolute, really difficult spots in terms of scheduling, in terms of travel and hotels and movement of people for next year."

He hopes to have the schedule ironed out before the end of the year.

"When the new year turns, you have to have things pretty well in place," he said. "We're talking about charter aircraft — and not little planes here — we're talking about big planes, hotels and those kinds of issues."

There's also the issue of the athletics budgets in play.

In January and February, season-ticket renewals are sent out and there needs to be a schedule ironed out before that.

"Our budgets are predicated on that revolving movement of money," he said. "We've got to have all of those things in place, and that's the most critical piece at this point in time, is being able to lock that down so we know how we can communicate with our fan base."

Don't be surprised if talk of bringing divisions back in men's basketball is revived with the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M.

Barnhart, a member of an SEC committee appointed to look at men's basketball scheduling, said the option will definitely be part of the transition conversation.

"It does put a lot of things back in play again," he said of expansion. "I don't know if divisions are back in play. Does 18 go back to 16? There's a lot of moving pieces to this thing right now, and I'll be very, very curious to see what they come up with and how it plays out."

Football injury report

Junior linebacker Ridge Wilson has been cleared to play after a shoulder injury on Saturday. He will be able to play against Vanderbilt if he gets his range of motion back, Phillips said.

Raymond Sanders will practice tomorrow and was listed on the newest UK depth chart with an "or" for the starting spot with CoShik Williams.

Ankle injuries to defenders Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph have improved, and they should be back to practice by Wednesday.

Matt Roark has a foot strain and will be out until late this week. Fellow receiver E.J. Fields has a hip pointer and is listed as day-to-day.

Smith earns SEC honor

Quarterback Max Smith was named the SEC's Freshman of the Week for his 283-yard performance (which included two touchdowns) against Ole Miss on Saturday. In his first start, Smith set a school record for passing yards by a true freshman.

Georgia game set

Kentucky's game at Georgia will be at 12:21 p.m. and be broadcast on the SEC Network. The game will be in direct conflict with the men's basketball game that day at noon against Penn State at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Conn.

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