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Kentucky finishes 29th in Director's Cup

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_R6L2304.JPGIt isn't top 15 quite yet, but it is progress.

The latest and final Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings for the 2009-10 athletics season, which were developed as a joint effort between the National Association of College Director of Athletics and USA Today to rate the top athletic departments in the country, were released Thursday with Kentucky finishing in the top 30 for the first time in more than a decade.

UK's final standing of 29th place is the third-highest finish in school history and best since the 1997-98 athletics season, when the school was awarded the full allotment of points in men's basketball for winning the national championship. 

Coupled with Kentucky's four championships in the last two years (two rifle titles in 2009 and two men's basketball crowns in 2010), Kentucky is making progress in achieving the 15 by 15 by 15 Plan, a department-wide mandate to win at least 15 conference, tournament or national championships and rank among the NCAA's top 15 athletics programs by 2015.

Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart enacted the plan in November 2008 in hopes of molding an athletics department that competed with integrity, won championships with class and succeeded in the classroom.

"We had set our sights on being top 15 in all sports by the year 2015," Barnhart said. "We still have not met our goals, but I am pleased with the progress. We had an outstanding fall and winter, which pleases me greatly in that it means our teams, specifically our coaches and athletes, have really done some special things. We must continue to improve in all phases if we hope to accomplish our goals."

While improvements are still to be made, the vision Barnhart set into motion when he was hired eight years ago is starting to come to fruition.

UK tallied 534.00 total points in the Directors' Cup race at the conclusion of the fall and winter sports, an all-time high for the program. The department scored 89.0 points in the fall before amassing 445.00 points in the winter, sixth highest among all schools in Division I.

The trend of improvement lies in the numbers. Since Barnhart's first full athletics season in 2002-03, Kentucky has improved nearly 30 spots. Over the last few years, the department has progressively climbed from 45th in 2006-07 to 36th in 2007-08 to 34th last year and finally to 29th this year. It is also the highest finish of the Barnhart era.

More indicative of Kentucky's improvement is its 703.25 total points in 2009-10 against increasingly improving athletic departments. Not only did this year's mark shatter last year's points total of 607.80, it easily bested the 1996-97 26th-place finish of 374.5 points, the school's best finish in the standings.      

Barnhart acknowledged that UK must continue to move its way up the standings if the department is to meet its lofty standards, but they are goals that Barnhart believes are capable of achieving.

 "That's the goal," Barnhart said. "As we talked about a year ago, it is important to finish the deal."

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