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Barnhart’s Raise Not Popular, But That Doesn’t Mean It’s A Bad Move

Tell me if this describes your favorite school’s athletic director:


“… a bean-counter who keeps raising the price for parking permits, who seems to care more about the so-called minor sports than the major bread-winners.”


In this case, it’s Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart who John Clay of The Lexington Herald-Leader says is describing.  Clay says that’s how Wildcat fans view their AD.  Not UK athletes or the UK administration, mind you, but UK fans.

We’ve long said that the athletic director’s position is one of the most thankless jobs in college sports.  But with salaries rising — Barnhart got a $125,000 raise and three-year extension yesterday — we may have to amend that to say that the AD position is the most misunderstood in college sports.  At $600,000 a year, Barnhart is getting plenty of thanks for his work even if it’s not coming in the form of fan praise.

Clay believes outgoing UK president Lee Todd’s decision to hand Barnhart an extension didn’t do the AD any favors:


“A retiring president handing his nine-year athletics director a three-year contract extension with an annual $125,000 raise in a tough economic climate gives the perception that he’s providing economic cover to a favored employee before the new boss arrives.”


Not so, says Todd.  He says the next president can still make a change at the AD spot if he likes — albeit a very expensive change thanks to Barnhart’s new contract.  “But I will tell you with every beat of my heart, this is a positive for the next president of this university.”

In truth, Barnhart has done a solid job at UK.  The football program — even after a 6-7 season — has improved from bad to average on his watch.  Fans want good, not average, but you have to walk before you can run. 

The basketball program has more vitality now than it has had at any point since Rick Pitino left Lexington in the mid-90s.  The Cat fanbase is excited and engaged again.

Perhaps most importantly, UK has avoided NCAA scandals on Barnhart’s watch.  As Clay writes: “Given the school’s history, that is an accomplishment worth much applause.”

Athletic directors aren’t popular figures unless their latest hire has just won a national crown.  Otherwise, they are just the folks who raise ticket prices and make seats smaller.  For that reason, there was no way handing Barnhart a contract extension and a raise would go over well with UK fans.

But that doesn’t mean Todd made a mistake in locking up Barnhart through 2019.  Look around the SEC, Cat fans… how many ADs would you trade him for?

 


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