Barnhart raises bar for UK athletics

University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart introduced an aggressive, seven-year plan at a UK Athletics Association board meeting Monday that he hopes will turn Kentucky into one of the nation's top 15 programs by 2015.

Barnhart said he wants to see Kentucky win at least 15 Southeastern Conference or national championships during that time frame.

Last year the Wildcats finished 36th in the NACDA Directors Cup standings, which ranks overall sports programs, and 45th the year before.

"If you look at our history and where we have been, it is a step in a fairly aggressive direction for us," Barnhart said. "We've done some things competitively to get in that 30-35 range, and I'm pleased with that. ... The challenge now is to not only get to a spot, but make deep runs at championship, both at a league level and a national level.

"Early in our tenure it was about getting things in place and laying groundwork. Now it's about aggressively going after some of the things that bring us bigger pieces of fruit so to speak."

Barnhart said one of the ways that UK can climb the ladder is with improved facilities, and the UKAA approved a $1.5 million renovation of Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge on Monday. Barnhart noted that the money would come from private funding.

"It's a little outdated," Barnhart said of the dorm that houses UK men's basketball players and other students. "It's a 30-year building. ... There are some things that need to be cleaned up."

Barnhart added that the university continues to work with IMG College and affiliated company International Stadia Group for ideas on a new downtown arena to replace Rupp Arena, renovations to Commonwealth Stadium and improvements to the baseball, soccer and softball facilities. All upgrades will be privately funded.

"It's about facilities and what we can do to recruit athletes to our program and give us the best chance to be competitive," Barnhart said. "There are some things other folks have that are over the top. But there are some basic things we need to compete."

The plan also calls for UK's sports teams to achieve a 3.0 cumulative grade point for all sports and for its student-athletes to become more socially active in the community.

"Our state is hurting in a lot of ways right now," Barnhart said. "It's hurting emotionally, economically. It's time for us to figure out ways to help out."