In the debate about whether to renovate Rupp Arena or build a new facility in downtown Lexington, University of Kentucky athletics has stressed that the program must be the "gold standard" in college basketball.
Coach Rachel Lawson has elevated softball to a similar standard, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said Monday in announcing her new five-year, $727,500 contract.
"The team is a model," he said. "(The players) are consummate student-athletes. She's an educator. She's a teacher of the game. When they take the field, they do it with class."
Barnhart saluted Lawson for raising the softball program's profile from local afterthought to national contender in four years as coach.
"When I came here nine years ago, there were people who had invested time," Barnhart said, "but, unfortunately, the results didn't come close to what Rachel has done."
This past season saw UK win a record 40 games and make its first appearance in the NCAA Super Regionals. UK became one of only 31 teams to advance to three straight NCAA Tournaments.
"She's developed an identity for the team," Barnhart said.
Lawson spoke of her new contract as a symbol of progress for women in sports.
"By today's standards, it's a lot of money," Lawson said, "especially for women. It's really cool to show how far women's athletics have come."
Lawson is due a raise of about $60,000 a year from her previous pay of $86,000. Louisville softball coach Sandy Pearsall, who led the Cards to a runner-up finish in the Big East Conference and a spot in the NCAA Tournament, makes $99,500.
Lawson, the ninth daughter in a family of 12 children, noted that Barnhart had rewarded her by annually extending the original contract by a year.
The UK A.D. noted Lawson's loyalty.
"In the last 48 hours, she's been the topic of conversation at a lot of different places," he said. " ... We know we have a truly, truly special person amongst us."
Barnhart refused to answer questions about the on-going process of giving basketball coach John Calipari a new contract.
"This is a softball press conference," Barnhart said. "We're not talking about anything else."
Barnhart posted on Twitter last week that he wanted to give Calipari a contract extension. He did not tweet any details.
Barnhart also refused to talk about the request from the NCAA Committee on Infractions for UK to publicly acknowledge its mistake in honoring Calipari for his 500th victory this past season. Because of vacated victories while he coached at Massachusetts and Memphis, Calipari's career victory total is officially 467, according to NCAA records.
The chair of the Committee on Infractions wrote UK a letter earlier this month asking it to acknowledge the mistake or appear before the Committee to explain why it would not honor the request.