uk logo1 300LEXINGTON, Ky. (6/27/13) – With another year in the books, the University of Kentucky athletic department continues to advance toward its goal of building a comprehensive program that excels in all areas.
On Thursday, word arrived that UK has attained its best finish ever in one of the most recognizable measures of athletic department success: the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup.
UK is 25th in the final 2012-13 Directors’ Cup standings, the first top-25 finish in school history. The previous record finish of 26th came in 1996-97. UK also tied a school record by placing sixth among Southeastern Conference schools even though the conference featured 14 teams for the first time this season. The SEC led all conferences with three institutions in the top 10: Florida (second), Texas A&M (fifth) and Georgia (10th).
The finish continues a pattern of consistent improvement in the Directors’ Cup during the Mitch Barnhart era. UK has now finished in the top 30 of final Directors’ Cup standings in three of the last four years after a 50th-place finish in 2002-03, the first year after Barnhart’s arrival. With that steady upward trend, Barnhart’s ambitious aim of finishing in the top 15 by 2015 as part of the 15 by 15 by 15 Plan introduced in 2008 seems attainable.
The Directors’ Cup was founded in 1993-94 as a result of a joint effort by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and USA Today. Points are awarded by sport when teams advance to the postseason in sports sanctioned by the NCAA. Fifteen of UK’s 22 programs combined to score UK’s 748 points, led by rifle’s second-place finish, an Elite Eight appearance by women’s basketball and trips to the round of 16 by volleyball, men’s tennis and softball.
Rifle also brought home a conference championship in 2013, adding another tally toward Barnhart’s goal of 15 conference and national titles won before 2015. Now at 11 since 2008, UK needs four more championships in the next two seasons to reach its objective. UK student-athletes also reached Barnhart’s goal of a 3.0 department-wide grade-point average in both the fall and spring semesters for the first time in 2012-13, fulfilling the academic side of the 15 by 15 by 15 vision.
But even with all that success, improvement is on Barnhart’s mind.
"When you have 22 programs, you have some highs and some lows, some things that you wanted to do really, really well and some things that you want to do better," Barnhart said in a recent interview with Gary Graves of the Associated Press. "Sometimes, we take it for granted because we've been steady the last few years in consistent growth. But clearly, the sports that gather the most attention, rightly or wrongly, are ones we've got to get better in."
The sports about which Barnhart is talking are, of course, men’s basketball and football. Even though neither contributed toward UK’s record Directors’ Cup finish, there’s reason to believe they will both be doing so soon.
"It's been an interesting year in that we've had some things to celebrate, and that's been fun," Barnhart said. "Fans look at three or four sports, first and foremost, and it's interesting that while we might not have had the success that we've wanted or been used to, excitement for those sports is at an all-time high."
Barely a year removed from its eighth national championship, John Calipari’s men’s basketball program will welcome one of the top recruiting classes in history next season and could be in line for a preseason No. 1 ranking. Mark Stoops, meanwhile, has whipped Kentucky’s football fan base into a frenzy during his first seven months on the job. After UK signed an impressive class in February, 50,831 attended the Blue/White Spring game to help set the stage for what could be an even better 2014 class.
Barnhart is now challenging those teams to turn excitement into results during the next season and beyond and asking those that had success in 2012-13 to pursue even more.
This spring, he had t-shirts made and distributed to student-athletes, coaches and staff emblazoned with the phrase “Almost Isn’t Good Enough.” To put it another way, Barnhart is telling everyone involved in UK Athletics that pursuit of anything less than being the best is unacceptable.
"We've done a lot of great things in the last year and over the last decade," Barnhart said at the CATSPY Awards in April. "That's now just the foundation. We're on a new journey and much more is expected."
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