LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 10, 2010) - Every summer, University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and his family face the same routine. They sit down and look at the intense fall schedules for all UK's athletics teams to figure out when they can carve out any moment of free time.
“We start looking for openings for our family, and we realize there's not any starting around August 30," said Barnhart. "Every weekend is sort of locked up, but that’s OK because we enjoy it, and it’s been the lifestyle for our family for 28 years. I don’t think our student-athletes would have it any other way.”
Neither would Barnhart. Even though this year, the success of football and the men’s and women’s basketball teams garnered the most attention, he spent his time attending contests in every one of the 22 intercollegiate sports offered at UK.
“They see me in the corners of the fields and the courts, and I truly enjoy watching them compete,” Barnhart said.
In his eight years at UK, Barnhart has worked to make sure all student-athletes have the fiscal support they need, as well.
"When we came in, there were probably only three sports that were fully funded in terms of scholarships and staff,” said Barnhart. “So, we went in and changed the face of all those, completing the whole NCAA limit of staffing and scholarships to make sure that all of our teams have a chance to compete, because in this league, it’s unforgiving. You’re not going to have a chance to win any games if you don’t have the full complement of facilities, scholarships and staff."
That determination is something UK President Lee T. Todd, Jr. admires.
"Someone needs to write a book on Mitch Barnhart’s leadership style, because from the very moment he stepped on campus, the guiding principal of UK Athletics has been ‘clean and competitive,' " said Todd. "We want our students to compete for championships the right way – by following NCAA rules and regulations. We also want to make sure they have the chance to compete for championships, no matter what sport they play. Mitch has worked tirelessly to ensure that each and every student-athlete has the resources they need to excel in the classroom and compete for titles."
The attention to detail is paying off in terms of the overall success of the department. In the latest standings for the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup, which rates the top athletics departments in the country, UK currently ranks 16th. The final standings will be announced July 1. The highest UK has ever finished was 26th in 1996-97.
While the news is good, Barnhart has even higher goals in mind for the department.
“To parallel Dr. Todd’s goal of being a Top 20 institution for Kentucky, we want to be a top 15 department by 2015 and have won 15 championships,” said Barnhart. “That includes SEC and national championships in one way shape or form in all of our sports programs and to be a top 15 program in all sports. Our other additional goal is to have a collective 3.0 GPA for all of our student athletes."
The success of his department impacts the entire university because of what UK Athletics gives to UK's campus.
"Mitch has embraced the university’s academic and research missions because he has made UK Athletics a national leader in supporting academic programs on campus," said Todd. "Not only is UK Athletics self-sufficient from a financial standpoint, it provides $1.7 million each year to UK’s academic scholarship fund.”
"We wear the name of the University of Kentucky on our jerseys, so we represent the institution in everything we do," said Barnhart. "There's a responsibility that comes with that."
It's a responsibility Barnhart is happy to see the department embrace.
"At UK, it’s a very ‘all for one, one for all deal,' " said Barnhart. "We’ve got good camaraderie. We’ve got coaches who all want their individual sports to do well, but collectively, they want Kentucky to be great, and they realize that a rising tide raises all boats.”
That family type of atmosphere may be why Barnhart's family is so understanding of the extra demands of his ever-present goal to try to attend all sporting events. They know that the UK Athletics family will forever be an important part of their lives, and the lives of the student-athletes they touch.
What does Barnhart have to say about UK basketball, the importance of Kentucky football, as well as the lofty goals he has for UK Athletics? Visit http://www.youtube.com/user/universityofkentucky#grid/user/5DE78A56EBD0EEE1 to watch clips from our conversation with Mitch Barnhart.
Follow Mitch Barnhart on Twitter at @UKMitchBarnhart