LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 25, 2023) — Citing the “critical continuity and stability” afforded by “retaining the country’s best athletics director,” University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto on Friday announced that he was extending Mitch Barnhart’s contract through June of 2028.
Barnhart, who has served as UK’s athletics director since 2002, has led the university’s athletics program through unparalleled success on and off the fields of play, with six national championships, 54 conference regular-season and tournament titles, more than $400 million in new and renovated facilities and 22 consecutive semesters with a department-wide grade point average of 3.0 or higher. His current contract expires at the end of 2026. The extension will take Barnhart’s contract through June of 2028.
In addition to being named the 2019 Sports Business Journal Athletic Director of the Year, Barnhart was recognized with the 2022 National Football Foundation’s John L. Toner Award for demonstrating superior administrative abilities and outstanding dedication to college athletics and particularly college football. Under his leadership, UK Athletics is one of only ten NCAA Division I institutions who have ranked in the nation’s top 20 overall athletics programs in the Learfield Directors’ Cup for six consecutive years.
“The landscape for college athletics is dramatically and rapidly changing — with complex and challenging issues ranging from NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) and the transfer portal to questions about the long-term financial model for athletics and the imperative to help prepare students for lives of meaning and purpose,” Capilouto said in announcing the extension. “We have, in my judgment, the nation’s best athletics director. Continuing that leadership at such a critical juncture and ensuring ongoing stability amidst so much change is the right thing to do for UK Athletics. It’s the right thing to do for the University of Kentucky.”
Highlights of the extension include:
- Barnhart’s current contract ends in 2026. With the extension, his term now goes through June 2028.
- There is no change to base salary for the previously existing years of the agreement; however, the retention incentives for the athletics director reflect changes of $100,000 in the first year with $50,000 increases in the two years subsequent. Other performance incentives – for academic and athletic metrics – would not change.
- Beginning July 1, 2026, Barnhart could, with six months’ notice, elect to step down from the role of athletics director, at which time he would assume the position of special assistant to the president for two years, at a reduced salary of $800,000 annually.
“I am deeply appreciative of the faith in me expressed by President Capilouto and the university. It is an honor to represent this university and state and to guide our athletics department through a period of such consequential change in college athletics,” Barnhart said. “My enthusiasm for the job and commitment to being the best program in the country is as strong as it has ever been and I remain incredibly passionate about helping our students succeed in the classroom, on the fields of play, and most importantly, in life. This is what we do. That is who we are. For me, it’s about putting championship rings on their fingers and UK diplomas in their hands. Kentucky is my home — my children grew up here; my grandchildren are being raised here — and I am gratified to be able to end my career here.”
As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.
In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.