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UK Athletics an 'important asset' for university, new president says

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Eli Capilouto is the 12th president of the University of Kentucky. (photo courtesy of UK public relations) Eli Capilouto is the 12th president of the University of Kentucky. (photo courtesy of UK public relations)
On July 1, 2011, former University of Alabama Birmingham Provost Eli Capilouto stepped into office as the University of Kentucky's 12th president. Capilouto replaced Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr., who retired after 10 years as UK's president.

With change come a lot of questions. What are Capilouto's goals? What is his vision for the university? What are the school's most pressing issues? What can the university do to better prepare its students? How can UK continue to move forward as one of the nation's pre-eminent public research institutions?

Somewhere along the way, once Capilouto is able to catch his breath, get his feet under him and address some of those questions -- a month into the job, Capilouto is still getting acclimated to the university -- one of the things he'll evaluate and assess is the UK athletics department and the relationship it has with the university.

The university and athletics department have experienced a strong association under Todd and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, but with a new president in office, we wanted to know where the relationship is headed and how it can be improved. What are his views on the current landscape of collegiate compliance? What are some of the conversations Capilouto and Barnhart have had? What are his impressions of the athletic passion of UK?

Those are some of the questions I asked Capilouto in a recent Q and A with the 12th president of UK. Here are some of the questions:

Question: You've been in the president's chair now for about a month. What's that first month been like?
Dr. Capilouto: The first month has been energizing. What moves me the most is the affection people have for the University of Kentucky and the high hopes they have for this university and the high expectations they have of me.

Question: Obviously you have a ton on your plate and a lot to address. How do you go about prioritizing what you need to and what you need to take care of first?
Capilouto: There are many constituent groups who I feel like it's important for me to reach out to and to serve. I would say they are the students, faculty, alumni, our board of trustees because they represent the people of this state, elected officials, and I'm trying to visit people in their home communities to get a better perspective. I think of my calendar in terms of the constituents we serve. I try to apportion my time to get to touch those groups.

Question: One of those things that I'm sure you will get around to eventually is evaluating the athletic department and the relationship between the university and the athletics side. How do you envision that relationship working?
Capilouto: First of all, let me say that before I even took the job, I started a relationship with UK Athletics. I certainly talked to Mitch Barnhart, formally and informally. We've had many, many conversations. I've talked with some of the coaches. It's kind of hard to miss the Big Blue Nation because they are everywhere you go. How does it work? We have to share the same goals, which is success in the classroom for our student-athletes and success on the playing field. We want to do that with integrity, honesty and class.

Question: The two work separate of each other in a lot of aspects, but how vital is it that they work together and that they share the same vision for each other?
Capilouto: I think athletics is one of the most important assets that we have for the University of Kentucky. I'll tell you a true story. Since I live on campus, on the weekends especially, I meet people who visit here. As I walked over to my office this past Saturday, I saw a young man wandering around campus and I said, 'May I help you?' I still remember his name because he sent me an e-mail afterwards. I said, 'What are you doing here?' And he said, 'My parents are driving back from Detroit and I so wanted to see the campus.' I said, 'What do you know about it?' (He said,) 'I love your basketball team.' So I said, 'Have you ever thought about coming to school here?' He said he hadn't thought about it so I told him he should think about it. So I said, 'Where are your parents?' He said, 'They're down in the van,' so I suggested we go down and see them. We went down there and I had my picture made with them and I got them to the bookstore so they could get Kentucky memorabilia. He sent me an e-mail on Monday and said he was interested and asked who he could talk to about coming to the University of Kentucky. I think that happens a thousand times a day because of the attention athletics can give to our academic programs.
 
Question: Can it be used as a pedestal to promote each other?
Capilouto: Let's say a portal. It can serve as an entrance, sort of a gateway into our academic programs. The relationship works both ways.

Question: The relationship between the athletics department and the university was very strong under the previous president. I know you're still evaluating that relationship, but are there ways to improve it?
Capilouto: One of the things I liked about the University of Kentucky is no one is ever entirely satisfied with where we are and they always want to get better. But I do want to salute Dr. Todd and Mitch Barnhart and all the coaches because I do think we have something special here in the athletics program. Everybody has done their job.

Question: One of the things the athletics department has prided itself on over the last few years is being one of the few self-sustaining athletic departments nationwide. Can you talk about the importance of having an athletic department that can support its own budget without the help of the university?
Capilouto: It is critically important. We're one of only 22 universities with an athletics program that is financially self-sustaining. We have the broadest athletics program in the SEC with 22 sports. Under Mitch's leadership, we've made significant investments in all of our programs, creating many more opportunities for student athletes, both young men and young women, to successfully compete at the highest levels. The experiences of most universities are quite different. To support athletics often times requires hefty student fees, which we've been able to avoid. Also, I think athletics has contributed to our academic side as well, providing nearly $2 million annually for academic scholarships, some $500,000 annually for institutional advertising, as well as supporting a number of important research initiatives in recent years such as the Center for Research on Violence Against women. In all, our athletics department is not only financially self-sustaining, it also returns more than $20 million annually to the university.
 
Question: You mentioned that you've met with Mitch already. I believe you met at the SEC spring meetings in Destin. What were some of the things you two discussed to start the relationship?
Capilouto: The first thing we talked about was the welfare of our students and how they do in our classroom and what kind of support they have. I was pleased that I believe Mitch has an individual interest on a personal level in all of our athletes. He cares deeply about them. That was the most important thing to me. In the era of oversight that we live in, he explained to me the robust compliance efforts that go on here. I felt good that the efforts were not just in the spirit of complying with any regulations, but I felt like there was a high principle of doing the right thing.

Question: I know you've already had conversations with Mitch, but will you at some point sit down with him and evaluate the job he's done and the direction of the program?
Capilouto: I'm sure we'll meet several times. Many of the positions at the university -- in fact all of them -- are evaluated every day, not only by your supervisor but by the public. I look forward to forging a strong partnership with Mitch and I believe we are off to a good start

Question: Compliance is obviously a big topic of conversation nationally in today's modern athletics. With so much stuff to deal with on the university side, how do you monitor what's going on in the athletics department?
Capilouto: First of all, I don't ever want to underestimate the importance of playing by the rules because what you lose is priceless. You can lose your reputation and you can damage individuals and the things that follow them in their careers and their entire lives. We need to do everything we can to prevent those type of mistakes. I have to trust those people who hold responsibility in those areas because on a day-to-day basis they are responsible, but everybody within the organization has to share that same commitment. There has to be a culture that supports it. Trust is important in all the relationships at our university.

Question: You said you have met with some of the coaches. Who are some of the coaches you have met with and what were those conversations like?
Capilouto: I met briefly with Coach (John) Calipari. He also called and welcomed me to UK. I met briefly with Coach (Joker) Phillips at the spring meetings. I've also met some others but the meetings were too casual for me to remember. I'm scheduled to meet with most of them soon and I look forward to it as I understand how important successful athletics program is to the success of the institution.

Question: What were your impressions of Coach Calipari and what do you think he's brought to this university?
Capilouto: I think he's done an exceptional job. I know from personal stories that I heard long before I came here that he cares about his athletes, he cares about his profession and he cares individually about his colleagues.

Question: At the end of the day, the goal of the university is to provide these students with an education, an opportunity to graduate and a chance to go on to the career path of their choosing. How committed do you feel like the athletics department is to that mission?
Capilouto: I think they strongly share that same value. I haven't met everybody, but the people that I have met are here for these students. That's why they're here. They have an unyielding commitment to those students' success. I played high school athletics and it's just how it's always been my whole life. Those coaches that coached me over 40 years ago remain role models for me. They care about me, call me every once in a while or send me an e-mail to see how I'm doing. It was a relationship that was forged in a unique environment. I've watched coaches at the collegiate level extend their concern about their players and their players' families long after they leave college.

Question: I know all the students aren't on campus, so maybe you haven't experienced the full effect, but are you surprised at the passion of this place and how much people are drawn in to the university through the Big Blue Nation?
Capilouto: To be honest with you, the times I was on campus previously -- before I officially assumed this position -- all the students were here. I enjoyed so much getting to interact with students, including several student-athletes who took the time to come to one of the campus forums I was at prior to my selection. It was a demonstration of how much they care about the institution and their academic careers. They're not here right now so I'm still going through a blue withdrawal. There was so much blue my first visit here. I just can't wait for them to get back.

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2 Comments

Welcome! We are very proud of our university and true BLUE bloods that live in Louisville. As parents of a currnt UK student, our son Kelly would not go to any other school. We look forward to watching you continue to lead UK to new heights. Congratulations and God Bless!
The Deuser's

athletics are a great asset to any university, great read!

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  • meg: athletics are a great asset to any university, great read! read more
  • Debbie Deuser: Welcome! We are very proud of our university and true BLUE bloods that live in Louisville. As parents of a read more