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Kentucky To Strip 6,000 Seats From Commonwealth Stadium In A First-Class Renovation Project

File this one under perfect timing.

Last week, we wrote the following: “How long before and SEC school decides to replace 10,000 to 20,000 seats with larger, more opulent skyboxes?”

Well, it ain’t 10- to 20-thousand, but the University of Kentucky will be dropping the seating capacity at Commonwealth Stadium from 67,000 to 61,000 in time for the 2015 season.  According to The Lexington Herald-Leader, officials discussing the refurbishing of the stadium yesterday said that “the goal is to create better seats, not more seats.”

Architect Gerardo Prado says Wildcat AD Mitch Barnhart wants the 40-year-old stadium to be a one-of-a-kind venue:


“Classy and cool were the exact words used by Mitch and that’s what we’re trying to strive for here.  We don’t want this to look like any other stadium in the Southeastern Conference.”


So far so good:




























The $110 million renovation project should “change the personality of the stadium,” Barnhart said.  “It’s hopefully more intimate, hopefully, it is more fan friendly.”

“We’ve got to create an environment that’s fun for people to want to come to,” the AD added.  “And I think this is the right size for us.”

In addition to going smaller, the number of tickets offered to students will decline.  The student section will surround a new glass-front recruiting room — long a UK need — with a capacity of 200 people.  That recruiting room will also have its own patio, which is unique to Commonwealth Stadium.

The south side of the stadium will feature a new pressbox sitting on top of 28 suites.  Below the suites will be club seats and loge/VIP seating.  Alcohol will be available to those buying premium seats.

Additional notes:


*  UK will reticket the entire stadium and it will have a new seating plan.

*  About 25,000 seats will be available with a donation of $100 or less to the UK athletic program.

*  There will be wider concourses, new concession stands and new restrooms for everyone, not just the folks in the suites, club seats and loge/VIP areas.

*  In a fantastic touch, areas of the stadium will feature reclaimed Kentucky barn wood and Kentucky limestone to add a “little bit of Kentucky flavor.”  Love that idea.


You can expect schools to continue to move in this direction as an increasing number of fans choose to stay home with their HD sets rather than drive to the ol’ ballyard.  Kentucky is moving in the right direction and the school’s plans look like a major, major upgrade for a stadium that currently has very little personality.

But rest assured some school down the line will take a more drastic dive into the newer-but-smaller stadium pool.  Six-thousand seats today?  It’ll be 10- to 20-thousand at some point.

Mark it down.  (Or — since this is a Kentucky story — Maker’s Mark it down.)



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UK O-Line Coach: The Cat Fanbase “Is The Best In The Country”

New Kentucky offensive line coach John Schlarman is doing what most new coaches at new schools do.  He’s praising his team’s fanbase.  Come to think of it, how many coaches can you remember saying, “We’ve got the worst fanbase in the world?”

Still, Schlarman’s talking pretty big about UK fans traveling well… even for football:


“The fanbase is the best in the country.  I don’t care what anybody says.  That’s for all sports across the board.  The Big Blue Nation, they want to be winners.  That’s the main thing.  They’re going to follow you and pack the place and create those environments you don’t get a lot of other places.  That’s something special to be a part of.”


Now, as fired up as Kentucky fans are about their new gridiron staff — the Cats drew 50,000 for their spring game — maybe they really will start filling Commonwealth Stadium and backing the Wildcats on the road.

But it’s awfully hard to forget that a fraction of an announced crowd of just 44,902 showed up to see the Wildcats close out their home schedule just seven months ago:





Schlarman, it should be noted, played at UK from 1994 through 1997 (starting all four years) and then served as a grad assistant in Lexington from 2000 through 2002.  Maybe his blue blood just started pumping a little too quickly when it came to his “follow you and pack the place” remarks.

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SEC Headlines 2/21/2013

headlines-thuSEC Football

1. Misdemeanor marijuana possession charge gets dropped against starting Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy because of a lack of evidence.

2. Offensive lineman Kolton Houston is still working to restore his eligibility at Georgia. Remains on scholarship.

3. If the current scholarship numbers hold, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will welcome 15 seniors, 28 juniors, 14 sophomores, 11 redshirt freshmen and 17 true freshmen to start training camp in the fall. (Exactly 85).

4. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops on his caffeine of choice: “I’m a coffee guy. I’m a latte guy. They’ve invested here. They gave me two new coffee machines.”

5. Kentucky’s governor signing into law a bill that includes $110 million for renovation of Commonwealth Stadium and other football facilities.

6. Here’s a conceptual rendering of what the east side of Texas A&M’s Kyle Field could look like. Construction expected to begin following 2013 season. Aerial view here.




NFL Scouting Combine

7. LSU players expecting questions about their relationship with former cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.

8. Former Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner reportedly has a torn labrum. He’ll undergo shoulder surgery following the combine this week.

9. Biggest chance to improve his draft placement among the 10 Alabama players at the combine?  Nose guard Jesse Williams. D.J. Fluker dropping weight - 16 pounds in a month.

10. Former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Chris Weinke on working with Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson: “He’s probably made the most improvements out of anybody that I’ve worked with in a short period of time.”

11. Of the three Auburn players at the combine, defensive end Corey Lemonier is expected to be drafted first. “Biggest week of my life.”

12. Texas A&M is sending six players to the combine – another draft expert predicts Luke Joeckel as the overall number on pick. 

13. Should players refuse to take standardized tests from the NFL?

14. The executive director of the Senior Bowl says the best tight end at the game was Mychal Rivera of Tennessee. 

University of Miami Investigation

15. NCAA investigation at Miami alleges Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith “failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance.”  

16. Bernie Miklasz: “If this allegation sticks, Haith may face a short suspension or be hindered by some relatively minor restrictions on recruiting.”

17. Mike Lopresti: “Where is the NCAA image today, when Miami is deemed the good guy?”

SEC Basketball

18. Georgia at Arkansas tonight.Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson is worried about the Bulldogs rebounding ability. “They outrebounded Ole Miss by 15. That’s something that really caught my eye.”

19. Georgia is still smarting from that overtime loss to Ole Miss. Did a phantom fall lead to a technical foul?  Coach Mark Fox: “That’s part of life. We have to get over it.”

20. The loss to South Carolina last night did damage to Ole Miss tournament hopes - and not much left to improve the resume.

21. Frank Martin defends Ole Miss: “I don’t want to hear anything about the SEC is weak and Ole Miss don’t belong in the NCAA tournament because they lost on the road. I don’t want to hear that, OK? I don’t want to hear that.”

22. Alabama’s Rodney Cooper had the first double-double of his career last night.  He leads the team in rebounds. Crimson Tide now one of the last four in?

23. Despite their 11th straight loss loss night, Mississippi State coach Rick Ray and his Bulldogs more upbeat than expected: “I am really pleased with the way our guys came out and competed.”

24. Tennessee has scored more than 80 points two straight games - shooting 50.5 percent from the field in current four-game winning streak.

25. A smiling Kentucky coach John Calipari after the victory over Vanderbilt: ”I thought we were very coachable tonight.”

26. Cartoon war in Kentucky gets ugly.

27. UK rolled out a new intro video last night.

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UK Raising Funds To Renovate Commonwealth Stadium

LouisvilleWhen the University of Kentucky ousted Joker Phillips, we said the school would have to invest in its football program or it wouldn’t matter who the Wildcats hired as their next head coach.  When UK tabbed Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops to be that man, we again stated that only a serious investment in football would allow him an opportunity to succeed.

You can guess then that we give a big thumbs-up to the school’s plan to renovate Commonwealth Stadium.

The plans for the stadium upgrade have been in the works for a while, but UK launched a new website yesterday to help raise funds for the project.  According to, the school wants to add:


*  Improved concessions, restrooms, video boards and security for fans.

*  A multi-purpose recruiting room

*  10 to 15 suites to seat 100-150 attendees

*  2,000 to 2,500 club seats

*  New press facilities

*  A new team store


The site says the school’s goal is to “maintain, or slightly reduce, seating capacity while increasing the value of the remaining seats.”  Those who’ve read this site for a while know that we’ve been expecting schools to start going smaller with their seating capacities and nicer with the amenities they provide.  UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart said the following in December:


“People write me all the time saying build an 80,000-seat stadium.  No, we don’t need that.  Probably, if we do anything, we’ll go the other way.  Less and better.  And make it really classy.  And try and put something that is pretty special to it and make it a better fan experience for those who come.  And make the ticket something that is a valuable commodity rather than something that you can pick up anywhere.”


Suites, club-level seating, increasing the value of remaining seats… obviously the school is looking to make more money off of its football program and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But the big addition for Stoops — if/when it comes to pass — is the new recruiting room.  Kentucky football has needed a new recruiting area to meet with prospects and families for several years.  In fact, Joker Phillips must be sick to his stomach that the room is being built after his dismissal.

The overall renovation of Commonwealth Stadium has a projected cost of $125 million.

UK is taking a step in the right direction.  James Franklin has done a wonderful job at Vanderbilt, but he’s also gotten more financial support than previous Commodore coaches.  Dan Mullen has turned around the fortunes at Mississippi State and stadium expansion is on the docket in Starkville as well.  The traditional have-nots of the SEC have proven in recent years that they can compete with the haves if they have enough support from fans, donors, and school administrators.

If Stoops gets support as Franklin and Mullen have, his job will become a whole lot easier.


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Only 18,885 Fans Showed Up For UK-VU Last Saturday; Think Rupp Would Ever Be Just 27% Full?

Outgoing coach Joker Phillips suggested earlier this week that he knew that his fate was sealed as Kentucky’s coach when he looked into the Commonwealth Stadium stands last week and saw more silver benches than people.  If you didn’t see the “crowd” for yourself, it was really more like a gathering than a crowd:




The fact that UK announced the attendance for the Wildcats’ game with Vanderbilt as 44,902 led The Lexington Herald-Leader to file an open records request in the hopes of learning exactly how many tickets were actually scanned — not sold, but scanned — upon people’s entry into the stadium.  The paper got the records.  And the real attendance on Saturday… was just 18,885.

Most spring games in the SEC draw more than 19,000 fans.  Many Texas high school games draw more than 19,000 fans.

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Phillips Opens Up About His Firing, UK’s Program, And How His Seniors Persuaded Him To Coach Last Two Games

Whether or not it will make a difference on the field in some sort of “win one for the Joker” way is yet to be seen, but according to recently-fired Kentucky coach Joker Phillips it was his seniors who persuaded him to coach UK’s final two games of the season.  In fact, a number of players — like O-lineman Zach West — have said that the team is “upset” right now over their coach’s ouster.

Phillips admitted yesterday when meeting with the press that he still wants Senior Night against Samford on Saturday to be about his players, not him:


“I don’t want to be sent out.  I don’t want an open casket. I don’t want to be somebody’s centerpiece. … I want it to be about those seniors…

(Several players told him) ‘Hey, Coach, you said you want to help watch us grow up.’  And that’s the reason I’m doing this.  The only reason.”


The coach also had a few words for the UK fanbase.  Phillips suggested he knew he was finished when he saw a practically empty Commonwealth Stadium for last week’s loss to Vanderbilt.

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UK Basketball Has A Soundtrack For The Season

“I ball hard, that’s just what I do.  I’m a Wildcat.  I bleed Kentucky blue.”


No, those aren’t the thoughts of yours truly.  They’re the lyrics to a new song and video that are making the rounds regarding Kentucky’s 2012-13 basketball season.  And why not?  With a football team that’s so cursed on the injury front you’d think Commonwealth Stadium was built on top of a Native American burial ground, why not focus on hoops?

And the focus at UK is on their “Drive for 9,” the song by Henry Ogirri:


HENRY OGIRRI – Kentucky Wildcats 2012 Anthem Drive for 9


What’s most amusing to me is the fact that fans of School X love these types of songs/videos when they’re in support of their own school, but they ruthlessly mock them when they’re written/performed in connection with any other school.

So getcha swag on, Kentucky fans.  And prepare your smart aleck comments, everyone else.

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Fans And Money May Force UK’s Barnhart To Oust Phillips

Kentucky is a different world from most of the SEC.  Basketball trumps football, both in success and in interest (the two go hand-in-hand).  During August, most of the SEC’s hometown newspapers focus on the coming football season.  In Lexington, the local media talks hoops recruiting, hoops facilities, hoops anything.

When people camp out to buy tickets to a practice session, it’s for basketball, not football.

So it’s a bit surprising that the University of Kentucky student newspaper — The Kentucky Kernel — is focusing an entire series on how the school probably needs to invest more money in football to have success.  Yes, football, not basketball.

Through the first couple parts of a four-part series on Wildcat football, the Kernel has pointed out:


1.  All schools make most of their money from football.  That’s not a surprise to most of you, but a few will be shocked that even at a school like UK, football is the sport that pays the bills for just about every other sport in the athletic department.

2.  Attendance is dropping at Commonwealth Stadium and with fewer people attending games, revenue for football is decreasing.

3.  This is the first year football has been budgeted to decline in revenue since fiscal year 2004-05.

4.  Most of UK’s football spending goes toward facilities, not coaches.  In basketball, the big expenses are coaching salaries.

5.  At Kentucky, many believe Commonwealth Stadium desperately needs luxury boxes.  According Oscar Combs, a member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, “Luxury suites are bought by corporate America… they will use those to wine-and-dine people no matter what your won-loss record is.”


Kudos to The Kernel’s Les Johns for creating a good primer for fans who may not spend much time thinking about the business side of their favorite sport.  Here’s Part One of his series… and here’s Part Two.

We bring this all to your attention because of the situation currently facing Joker Phillips.  The ex-Wildcat player and assistant is now sitting on the hottest of hot seats as his alma mater’s head coach.  (This writer would never hire an alum as a head coach because they’re tougher to fire when things go bad, but I’ve written that before only to be boo’d down).

But Phillips is coaching in a talent-poor state at a school with a ho-hum gridiron tradition and with facilities that lag behind many of the football factories he has to recruit against.  That’s not to say Phillips is — or will ever become — the coach UK needs, but the full scope of the job needs to be taken into consideration when figuring out what to do about the current coach.  And, as Phillips wisely points out in defending himself, UK currently has 72 freshmen and sophomores in its program.  Young players don’t win games.  Not that many.  Not anywhere.  In a perfect world, Phillips would be given at least another year to see how those players develop as sophomores and juniors…

If the school can afford another step backward financially with smaller donations and fewer tickets sold.

Unfortunately for Phillips even his own players failed to rise to his defense this week.  Linebacker Avery Williamson and defensive end Collins Ukwu both told The Louisville Courier-Journal that they’ve got to play for their teammates, not for their head coach’s job.  According to the senior Ukwu: “This is our last time, regardless if he’s going to be here or gone.”

That kind of talk will be viewed by many as a sign that this Wildcat team has given up on this Wildcat coach.

For Phillips, he’s trying to win at a school where most people have not won with facilities that aren’t on par with those of his competitors.  That’s not easy.

Most fans don’t care.  Many aren’t going to games.  Revenue is going to decrease further.  His own players aren’t quick to defend him.  And losing to Western Kentucky — whether that team is veteran and his is own is green or not — is completely unacceptable to most Big Blue fans.

At this point, even if Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart wants to save Phillips’ hyde, it’s looking less and less likely that he’ll be able to do so.


SIDENOTE — When asked today about the Jared Lorenzen (ex-Kentucky quarterback)/Brent Pease (current Florida offensive coordinator) war of words, Phillip joked: “Tell Jared to shut the hell up.  Tell Pease that Jared is sorry, OK?  I’ll apologize for him.”

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Three UK Footballers Arrested On Pot Charges, Already Suspended

If you were looking for receiver Bookie Cobbins or running back Raymond Sanders during Kentucky’s game against Western Kentucky on Saturday, you were wasting your time.  Both players were suspended for the game.  Now we know why.

According to The Lexington Herald-Leader, Cobbins, Sanders and cornerback Marcus Caffey — he’s sitting out the season after failing to qualify academically — were all cited last Thursday night for possession of marijuana.  While making a routine patrol, a police officer detected a “strong scent of marijuana” coming from the basement area of a Lexington apartment complex.  As it turns out, Cobbins, Sanders and Caffey were the folks with the weed and each admitted to the officer that he had been smoking said pot.

“Kids don’t always do all the things right,” Joker Phillips said.  “We hold our kids accountable.  We disciplined right away.  We don’t wait.  We try to get as many of the facts as we possibly can.  We got them on Friday and we disciplined right away.”

That’s commendable.  So was Phillips’ decision not to respond to a barb launched by WKU head coach Willie Taggart after the Hilltoppers upset the Wildcats 32-31 in overtime.  Unfortunately, fans expect good behavior and class from their favorite team.  What they want and demand are wins.  And Phillips hasn’t provided enough to keep the stands at Commonwealth Stadium full.

Having three guys busted for marijuana — whether he disciplined them immediately or not — can’t help the head coach’s cause.  It seems Phillips’ players are letting him down off the field as well as on it.



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UK Replaces Ring Of Honor, Bruises Some Egos

This year, Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington has a new look.  A video ribbon board wraps around the upper deck of the stadium… just as others do at most large stadiums in the country.  The video boards run some “fire ‘em up” messages during games, but their prime mission is to deliver advertisements.

Well, the new ribbon at Kentucky replaced a Ring of Honor that once listed the names of 45 ex-UK greats from Bear Bryant to Tim Couch.  And that’s not sitting well with some of the guys whose names were on that wall.

A sampling…

Sam Ball:  “I feel like me and the other 40-plus football players that paid the price to build Kentucky’s football program and paid the price to be Wildcats are now just about forgotten.  It’s almost disrespectful.”

Mark Higgs:  “(It) was like a slap in the face.  Now, they’re advertising Coke and putting on a laser show.  It’s terrible, just terrible.”

Joe Federspiel:  “You see your name, see all the good players who have played at the University of Kentucky, it’s a real honor.  What they’ve done now is sort of a slap in the face to former players.”

Wow.  Now maybe UK did step out of line by taking down the Ring of Honor.  If nothing else, the school dropped the ball by not alerting the ex-Cats honored on the wall that their names were coming down.  But shouldn’t these players let someone else do the complaining for them?

Not all schools have a Ring of Honor.  So from the get-go it was a nice gesture on the part of UK.  Nowhere is it written that a few ex-Cats must have their names on the wall at Commonwealth Stadium.

A slap in the face?  Really?

This is just my take, but even if I felt that way, I’d leave it to someone else to say it.  It strikes me as being a bit arrogant for anyone to say, “Hey, I want my name on the stadium!”

Kentucky officials point out that they have posted the names on flags around the stadium and twice per game they show the names on the video ribbon board.

Apparently that’s just not good enough.  We expect to see a new Ring of Honor created somewhere else inside the stadium by next fall.  The only way to quiet bad press like this is to yield to the complaints.

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