Barnhart celebrates UK athletic department's partnership with academics

jtipton@herald-leader.comJune 22, 2012 

University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart

A financial squeeze leading to well-chronicled layoffs and an increase in tuition led University of Kentucky president Eli Capilouto to ask Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart for help.

"Do you think you can do something?" Capilouto asked, as Barnhart recalled the conversation of earlier this year.

"I think we can," Barnhart replied. "We've had a good year."

The fruit of that conversation became public knowledge at Tuesday's meeting of the UK Board of Trustees Athletics Committee. UK announced that its athletic department, which enjoyed success competitively and financially in 2011-12, would increase its contribution to the academic scholarships from $1.7 million to $3 million the next school year.

Barnhart described the increase as evidence of a cooperative spirit between UK's athletic and academic spheres.

"It's no mystery that higher education took some shots this year in terms of funding," Barnhart said Friday. "We've always been partners with the university."

Athletics has contributed more than $13 million to UK's academic scholarship funds in the last nine years, Barnhart said.

The increase from $1.7 million to $3 million will enable UK to award a record 51 Singletary Scholarships in 2012-13. UK awarded 34 this past school year.

Capilouto's immediate predecessor as UK president, Lee Todd, emphasized the need for the school's athletic and academic communities to work together. Or as Todd put it, UK should not have "silos" on campus.

"This is about the University of Kentucky," Barnhart said. "We are a piece of that brand. We also want to be very aware of how we can contribute beyond the front porch mentality."

UK's athletic department did not make any donation to the school's scholarship fund until then president David Roselle began an annual $1.5 million transfer of funds in 1988. That donation increased to $1.7 million in May of 2009.

At its annual Spring Meeting last month, the Southeastern Conference announced that it would distribute a record $241.5 million to its 12 member schools as part of its revenue-sharing plan. That represented a 9.8 percent increase from 2010-11.

However, rising tuition costs, increased travel expenses associated with SEC expansion and plans for facility upgrades led UK to announce earlier this week that fans would need to pay more for men's basketball tickets next season.

In almost doubling the contribution to UK's academic scholarship fund, Barnhart noted in a statement that the increase was not a "recurring commitment," but the annual contribution from athletics will not be less than $1.7 million, he said.

"We never know how we'll do year to year," Barnhart said. "... I don't think you can ever say we'll be at a certain spot forever and ever, amen."

The increase from $1.7 million to $3 million generated positive feedback.

"I don't know if we'll ever please everybody or do enough," Barnhart said before adding, "We'll continue to try."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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