Politics & Government

Calipari says lawmakers should worry about UK's infrastructure, not its basketball schedule

Rep. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, was one of several legislators who posed for pictures with UK head basketball coach John Calipari on Thursday at the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort.
Rep. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, was one of several legislators who posed for pictures with UK head basketball coach John Calipari on Thursday at the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort. HERALD-LEADER

FRANKFORT — University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari doesn't think much of a legislative proposal that would require UK to play the University of Louisville in football and basketball every year.

"I would hope they (lawmakers) don't think I need help scheduling," Calipari said shortly before he spoke Thursday at an annual UK-sponsored lunch for lawmakers. "I hope they have more important things to do."

The bill's sponsor says not to worry, his proposal is just a head fake.

State Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, D-Louisville, said he was just trying to draw attention to other parts of the bill that impact what he considers to be the important issues in higher education: mandating better graduation rates and better governance.

"I wanted to draw public attention to the legislation," said Shaughnessy, who attended the luncheon on Thursday with Calipari and UK President Eli Capilouto.

"UK is the only state institution that graduates more than 50 percent of its students in six years. ... That is unacceptable," he said.

Shaughnessy also wants to see more and better oversight from university boards. Among other things, Senate Bill 45 would require all state universities to create action plans and progress reports for improving graduation rates.

As for the last part of the bill, it would indeed require UK and U of L to continue playing each other.

In recent weeks, Calipari has raised concerns about scheduling too many non-conference rivalry games, questioning whether U of L, North Carolina or Indiana should be dropped from UK's basketball schedule.

"It's a great rivalry, but that's not the point of the bill," Shaughnessy said.

Judging from comments on the Internet, that's a good thing, as many sports fans seemed to resent lawmakers getting involved in sports scheduling.

Calipari, for one, came to talk to lawmakers about UK's need for new academic buildings. He was the big draw, signing basketballs and taking pictures with various legislators before he told them about UK's construction needs amid a campus full of aging buildings.

He thanked legislators for their pride in the UK basketball team before saying, "I hope you would be just as proud of the campus ... I think it would be hard to say that.

"You want to be proud of this basketball team," he said. "Don't you want that same thing for all your students? ... We must rebuild this campus. With your help, we can all be proud."

UK says it could use at least $500 million to upgrade its academic and research facilities. It has another $500 million in housing needs, but is exploring a proposal to turn over its housing construction to a private company.

Capilouto made some waves when he said last month that UK would not support state funding for a renovation of Rupp Arena and surrounding areas being pushed by Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. Capilouto said the project might reduce the amount of state money available for on-campus construction needs. Calipari has said he supports Capilouto's position.

Capilouto has called renewing UK's undergraduate education and declining infrastructure the "Kentucky promise," the main focus of his first six months at the state's flagship school.

Many legislators were clearly moved by Calipari's appeal, but they are facing a still dormant economy and tight budgets.

"It's a legitimate need, but it's an ugly budget," said Rep. Bill Farmer, R-Lexington. "You have to balance needs versus what you've got."

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