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Kentucky AD Barnhart Does Damage Control

Yet another interesting development in Lexington

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Citrus Bowl - Kentucky v Penn State
ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01: Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen (41) poses with University of Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart after the award ceremony of the Citrus Bowl between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Penn State Nittany Lions on January 01, 2019, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, FL.  
Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There’s not really a North Carolina or really an ACC version of Kentucky Sports Radio.

There are other schools in the Commonwealth to be sure - Louisville of course, but also Eastern and Western Kentucky, both of which have great traditions, Morehead State, Murray State, which has a terrific tradition too and Bellarmine, which has done quite well for some time now in both D-I and D-II.

But there is only one KSR and we’re pretty sure it reaches the entire state because BBN, aka Big Blue Nation, is certainly statewide and, to borrow from Prince Harry, what BBN wants, BBN gets.

Including potentially a new AD.

So it was a logical place for current AD Mitch Barnhart to turn to as public pressure cranked up following the recent article in the Athletic which focused on problems with Kentucky basketball and the athletic department Barnhart runs.

He addressed a number of things, including the rumors that he’s not on speaking terms with basketball coach John Calipari (he says that’s false).

He also touched on the practice facility that Calipari says he has raised $30 million for, pointing out that UK doesn't actually have the money yet, but rather pledges - and that it would take 18-24 months to build at any rate.

He also said that there’s a process for expanding facilities that includes design, a master plan and gender equity. In other words, get in line.

What he didn't say was that while Calipari is under heavy pressure from fans and media, he is as well.

And the interesting thing is he’s somewhat boxed in with Calipari. He can’t fire him because the buyout is insane. And the summer spat between Calipari and Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops revealed an interesting reality too. While Calipari was right that UK has always been a basketball school, the reality is that Kentucky is in the SEC and there is no question that football is the priority in the Situational Ethics Conference.

So Stoops was at least partly correct because things have changed: there is more money in football than basketball and as an SEC AD, football sort of has to be the priority now, even at Kentucky.

And eventually, that means the Kentucky football coach will be paid more than the Kentucky basketball coach.

Actually, that’s already happened: Stoops is making $9 million to Calipari’s $8.5 million. If he is still in Lexington, Calipari will match Stoops by 2026 or so.

Obviously that doesn’t count secondary streams like media packages and summer camps and so on, traditional sources of extra income for coaches, nor speaking wherever they might get paid handsomely.

But the reality is that things have changed and, whatever his reasons, Barnhart clearly sided with Stoops during the summer spat.

So essentially this was damage control and it was a wise thing to do.

It may have tamped down the flames, but it doesn’t answer the questions about Kentucky basketball. Clearly there is pressure on Calipari to move on and there are signs that Texas has been in touch to fill the job left vacant when Chris Beard was fired.

Like all ADs, Barnhart has a list of guys he’d like to hire, which reportedly starts with Baylor’s Scott Drew, who might not want to leave Baylor, a program that he has built from scratch into a major national power, for a much more difficult situation at Kentucky.

So what to do if Cal leaves?

Sooner or later, some AD who wants success is going to have the nerve to proclaim Beard rehabilitated and back in good graces, and Beard will stand at the podium and say he’s been in rehab or therapy or anger management or whatever it ends up being and that he’s left the ugly situation with his fiancée behind in Austin.

He’d come relatively cheap because he’ll have few choices and there’s no question he would win. His new AD would point out that the charges were dropped (we don’t think they have been yet) because his fiancée would not testify against him or at least that he wasn’t found guilty of felonies. She might speak to the press to explain, again, that she was the aggressor and that Beard, as she now says, acted in self-defense.

Could that sell in Lexington? Would Barnhart dare?

Maybe. If Calipari leaves and takes his superb recruiting class with him, Barnhart will need two things: a quick fix and a guy who can build. And Beard has shown he can do both.

It would risk an understandable backlash given the ugly charges Beard is facing, but the payoff could be huge.