Oversight of athletics at the University of Kentucky would move from the UK Athletics Association to a committee of the UK Board of Trustees under a proposal approved Thursday by a special committee of trustees.
That proposal was unanimously approved by the committee, which was created by board Chairman Britt Brockman to study how the university oversees athletics.
He formed the committee shortly after former President Lee T. Todd Jr. gave Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart a contract extension and a raise without consulting the Board of Trustees or the UKAA Board.
Brockman said the contract extension had nothing to do with the pending changes and that he had discussed athletics oversight with Todd at least four months before Barnhart's pay raise. Barnhart is in total agreement with the proposed changes, Brockman said Thursday.
"Our desire is to be further committed to being a strong working part of the university community, and we are supportive of the structure being contemplated by the Board of Trustees," Barnhart said. "We are certainly appreciative of all the members of the athletics board who have been so supportive of the growth of our department academically, financially and competitively over the last nine years."
The Board of Trustees already has committees that look at nearly every other aspect of the university, including the hospital, investments and academics.
"Everyone assumed that the board (of trustees) has oversight," Brockman said after the vote. "Thank goodness we've had a decade of no NCAA violations, but we can't assume that in the future."
Frank Shoop, who serves on the Board of Trustees and the UKAA board, called the move a "really good idea."
"I think we need more trustees having a role in athletics; I think we need to expand trustee involvement," Shoop said.
When it was formed in 1945, the UKAA board hired coaches and employees, but through the years, coaches and other employees signed contracts directly with UK. The UKAA board's only duty has been to approve the department's budget, which it usually does without discussion.
The symbolism of Thursday's vote is significant, as the move would put athletics squarely under the jurisdiction of the Board of Trustees and make it a more equal player with other parts of UK.
"People have assumed that the board knows what's going on and has some oversight and control," said trustee Billy Joe Miles. "This is way past due. Sports has been a silo in itself ... I don't think we can go wrong."
Under the motion approved Thursday, the president would appoint a new athletics committee made up of five trustees and several community members.
Although committees are usually appointed by the Board of Trustees chairman, the president must appoint this committee in order to adhere to NCAA rules on athletics governance.
The UKAA board would be officially dissolved, but another advisory committee of faculty and students would be formed to discuss issues such as communication and student welfare.
"I see it as only being a positive," said Terry Mobley, a former basketball player who worked in development and was acting athletics director before Barnhart was hired.
"The downside is you've got 18 people who are not going to get good seats," he added, only half-joking. All members of the UKAA board get access to basketball tickets.
UKAA is an affiliated corporation which is completely self-supporting. Its $90 million budget receives no money from the academic side of UK.
UK is in the district represented by state Sen. Kathy Stein, who called the move "one of the smartest ... the Board of Trustees has made in a long time."
Stein said past controversies in sports made it appear that no one really knew what was going on at UK Athletics.
"I hate to use the overused word 'transparency,' but I think that's exactly what this brings," she said.
Stein said the vote could also help UK in January when officials go to Frankfort asking for state funding.
"The more cognizant a board of trustees is about what they are required to care for, the more stature they will gain in our eyes," she said.
Mobley said the vote wouldn't affect any athletic teams or the athletics department in general.
"And it has no negative reflection on the athletic board," he said. "There just won't be any responsibilities for it other than we want the input of an advisory group of students, faculty, community people."