Starting this weekend, Kentucky’s athletics director will receive another increase in pay and have a new set of incentives to achieve, per a new contract amendment he signed without any fanfare.
The latest amendment to Mitch Barnhart’s contract, which takes effect Sunday, pays the UK official $195,000 more in salary this year than last and includes yearly increases with a bonanza of new incentives and retention bonuses.
“Now, more than ever, a sense of stability, continuity and absolute trust in leadership is essential in college athletics,” university President Eli Capilouto said in a statement to the Herald-Leader when asked about the latest deal that will keep Barnhart as the program’s top athletics administrator through at least 2023 with an option for 2024 hinging on outlined goals.
Barnhart’s most recent contract upgrade before this one happened in 2013 and also was just posted to the university's contracts website and not formally announced.
This new one provides annual salary increases that could pay Kentucky’s top athletics official as much as $1.175 million by 2023, not including several add-ons for academic and administrative benchmarks.
Not including potential bonuses, Barnhart will make $925,000 this fiscal year, which puts him squarely in the middle of salaries among Southeastern Conference athletics directors, according to sportsinfo.pro, a database that tracks administrator salaries.
Barnhart, who is the longest-tenured conference AD and the new chairman of the league’s athletics directors, is the sixth-highest paid among them.
Alabama’s Greg Byrne and Florida’s Scott Stricklin, who both worked for Barnhart previously at UK, reportedly are at the top of the list.
Byrne makes $1.23 million per year, followed by Stricklin’s $1.08 million, according to the site, which also lists Tennessee’s Phil Fulmer and Arkansas’ Hunter Yurachek as making more than $1 million a year.
There are 17 athletics directors paid more than $1 million this year, including those four in the SEC, according to the database.
Barnhart is not on track to hit the $1 million mark in base pay until 2020 even with this new contract in place.
The raise and extension, which could keep Barnhart on campus until 2024 when he’s 65 years old, comes during “a period of unprecedented accomplishment and commitment to students and their success — on the playing fields, in the classroom and, most importantly, in life,” Capilouto said in his statement.
Under Barnhart, Kentucky has set records for graduation rates and maintained a perfect mark in the NCAA Academic Progress Rate. Continued success in academics will bring newly outlined bonuses for Barnhart as well.
For instance, he could receive up to $12,500 each semester that his department posts a collective 3.0 grade-point average or higher, not to exceed $25,000 in one fiscal year. UK has reached that threshold for 12 straight semesters under Barnhart, according to a news release by the school in May.
That is one of many such academic success incentives outlined in the amendment.
Since being hired in 2002, Barnhart has overseen $300 million in major construction, including the Joe Craft Center, new stadiums for track and field, softball and soccer, the UK Golf House and the Wildcat Coal Lodge.
Under Barnhart, Kroger Field had a $126 million renovation in 2015 and $45 million was spent on the new Joe Craft Football Training Facility. A $49 million baseball stadium is set to open in the fall and a new indoor tennis facility is in the works.
Barnhart also has said he plans to begin a significant renovation of Memorial Coliseum, home to women’s basketball, volleyball and gymnastics, in the near future.
Barnhart has worked on many national committees and boards, including the Division I men’s basketball committee. He’s served as chairman of the NCAA Competition and Oversight Committee and as a member of the Division I Baseball Committee.
Director's Cup incentives
That commitment to success in all sports also plays a big role in the amendment, which includes a $20,000 bonus for a top-30 finish in the Learfield Director’s Cup standings, a points system that honors the nation’s best overall athletics program.
The athletics director has said his goal is for UK to rank in the top five by 2022, which would turn into $150,000 in bonuses for him. If UK were to finish first in the annual competition, the AD would make $200,000.
Kentucky, whose best finish was No. 10 in 2016-17, has a current streak of six straight top-30 finishes.
The Director’s Cup standings are “the best measure we have for breadth and depth of excellence across an entire department,” Capilouto said in his statement about Barnhart’s new deal.
“Multiple teams have won conference and national championships, along with individual titles and recognitions in virtually every sport,” the president continued. “And at each step of the way, these efforts have been accomplished with a premium being placed on integrity and doing things the right way.”
Other bonuses within the new amendment include an additional $100,000 for meeting “strategic objectives” each year; half of that is for meeting the department’s annual budget and the other half “shall be related to qualitative factors established by mutual agreement” between Barnhart and the UK president.
The amendment included no specifics about what those qualitative factors might be.
A retention bonus is also built into the deal, including $350,000 if Barnhart stays through 2023 and then another $350,000 in 2024.
▪ The amended contract also includes some hefty penalties for UK if the athletics director is terminated without cause, including paying him $950,000 — on top of his base salary for the remainder of the deal — if he’s fired before 2019. After that, he’d get an additional $550,000 plus his base salary if Barnhart were to be fired without cause.