Construction crews have been at work on Commonwealth Stadium renovations since December. (Photo via Bell Engineering and taken in July 2014)
Russ Pear doesn't have the problem of the 9-to-5 grind, of waking up and realizing he's facing another boring day at the office.
It's quite the opposite, in fact.
When Pear -- UK's senior associate athletics director for facilities and operations -- arrives at work in the morning, he never knows what to expect. There's no such thing as a routine when you're managing the $100 million-plus renovation of Commonwealth Stadium.
"Some days, I think is this going to be different or a typical day, and there haven't been typical days," Pear said.
Pear -- who has moved his office from the Joe Craft Center to the bowels of Commonwealth during construction -- might not know what he'll be doing on any given day, but he knows exactly what his responsibilities are.
"My role in this whole project is making sure that our athletics department interest in what the project is about and how it moves along are kept always at the forefront of what is happening," Pear said.
In essence, Pear's job is to ensure that the vision for The New CWS, unveiled in November 2013, becomes reality. All those pretty pictures fans saw, Pear works closely with contractors to make sure they come to life.
That means there's a lot of information rattling around Pear's head and even more papers stacked in, around and on top of his desk.
"The documents -- there are 1,000 or so pages of the actual plans on all the different parts of this project," Pear said. "Just making sure I know where things are (is important). I obviously don't know every single page and every single in and out, but I know where to look. I am listening in on meetings and listening to contractor meetings and they are talking about this or that and I am like, 'OK, why are we doing that?' and making sure that our interests are being met."
Of course, there's still a long way to go in that process.
Photo by Britney Howard, UK Athletics and taken in May 2014
The transformation of the longtime home of Kentucky football won't be complete until UK's 2015 home opener. That's when fans will enjoy the more intimate and intimidating game day atmosphere of the new CWS and its new concourses, concessions, restrooms and premium seating areas. That's when players will begin to benefit from new home-team facilities. That's when future Wildcats will be hosted in a new state-of-the-art recruiting room.
To get to that point, construction crews broke ground immediately after the end of the 2013 season. Wasting no time getting to work, they began the first of three phases of the project.
From December 2013 to August 29, 2014 -- the day before UK's 2014 season opener against UT Martin -- it's all about laying foundations, both literally and figuratively, for the rest of the renovation.
Through the winter and spring, crews excavated large portions of concourses throughout the stadium to begin utility work and demolished the President's Room on the South side of the stadium to make way for the Field Level Club that will be located in its place when the new stadium opens in 2015. In its place, crews have drilled through 11 feet of dirt and 13 feet of rock to create the foundation for new premium seating areas. Also gone are the concession stands under the East end zone and light poles on both the North and South sides of the stadium.
In the summer months, steel work was the priority. In mid-June, the steel that will eventually support the new suites, press box and two elevator towers was set on the South side of the stadium. On the North side, steel supporting the new upper-level concourse also was set.
All this work, however, had to be undertaken with an awareness that UK still has to play seven home games in an under-construction facility in 2014. Fortunately, Pear has some experience on that front.
During the last two years, UK has put the finishing touches on adjoining new softball and soccer stadiums. In both cases, the teams had to play regular-season games before the projects were completed, including when women's soccer hosted an NCAA Tournament game in November.
"The first thing is all about safety and getting people in and out," Pear said. "I've told our contractors all along, if there is a ceiling or some siding that you need to take out or you need to do something up temporary to make this process continue along, do it."
What that means is Commonwealth won't always look its best in 2014. Customer service, however, won't suffer.
"When we get to the press box, we may not have ceiling tiles in there," Pear said. "It may not look like we would normally want the presentation in those kinds of spaces. Now the concourses need to be clean. Amenities and seating and all the things that we normally do -- everything needs to be just like they always are."
Fans will need to be aware of a few changes that will affect them though.
Rows 22-39 in sections 219-232 will be unavailable for the 2014 season, but fans with season tickets in those areas have already chosen news seats. Beyond that, Gates 10 and 11 will be closed throughout the season. All fans coming into the South side will have to enter through Gates 9 and 12. Gates 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9 are all accessible, but guests are encouraged to follow the direction of traffic control/safety staff to ensure safe entry and exit through construction fencing.
Once inside, fans will be able to access all concourses, though some will be narrower.
"The east side -- most of those gates (14 & 15) will all be still in place, but we will be building underneath the East end zone with the recruiting room and team space that is located under the lower East seating sections," Pear said. "You will be able to walk all the way around the stadium inside, using the lower concourse. There won't be any closed off portions of the lower concourse like we experienced during the spring game. However, in some areas concourses will be narrower."
During the 2014 season, the second phase of construction will begin. Working mostly in the upper level, crews will be preparing for the cold winter months.
"Then the reality is when the second phase of things are happening ... we will be continuing to work and continuing to do things especially up in that upper tower," Pear said. "At that point we are starting to get a lot of drywall up and a lot of things that have to happen to get enclosed so when we get to the winter months we are working inside."
If it isn't clear from Pear's words, there isn't a moment to spare. That's why Pear was so happy when he saw UK's 2014 schedule. The Cats will play their final home game on Nov. 8, a full three weeks earlier than if they were hosting a home game on the regular season's last week.
"That was a big help and that gives us another whole month of what we consider to be some good weather that should help the schedule," Pear said. "Now, I tried to convince Mitch (Barnhart) to see if we could get next season to start sometime in October, but I knew that wasn't going to happen."
Once the season ends and weather permitting, it's full steam ahead on the final phase of the project.
In case that wasn't enough for Pear to think about, $45 million in funding for a new football practice facility was approved in January by the UK Board of Trustees. Barnhart, when funding was secured, talked about the importance of creating a "one-stop shop" for the football program with the entire operation moving adjacent to Commonwealth at the existing Nutter Field House. Pear reinforced that point.
"You are lifting in the weight room and instead of having to go across the road to get over here you are going right in there," Pear said. "To have this whole football operation in one place will be a huge advantage for our overall program in time-saving and perception."
Pear has spent a good chunk of time meeting to make sure he has a handle on the needs that must be satisfied through the project. Now comes the time when decisions are made about how that gets done.
"We have had the input of the coaches and staff into the spaces we need," Pear said. "We don't know exactly where the spaces are going to be."
Pear estimated that initial renderings for the practice facility will be complete in the "next few months." In the meantime, he has plenty to work on and plenty to be excited about at Commonwealth.
"As we have talked about it and what Mitch has as the goal of this whole project is that we are touching our whole clientele, which for us is our fan base," Pear said. "All of our fans will have the amenities that will be better than what we had before.
"Then (we will address) what we are doing as far as the student-athlete. What is it that will make student-athletes and especially recruits, come in here and take a look at this and look at the recruiting room and look at the space we are creating underneath and look at the improvements we have made to this stadium? Hopefully they say this is a great place to be and a great place to play college football."
This story appears in the Official University of Kentucky Football Yearbook. The yearbook features stories on UK's recruiting success and High Performance program, as well as a season preview, game-by-game matchups and Q&As with players. You can buy it at Kroger locations throughout Kentucky, Fan Outfitters, Kennedy's Bookstore and online beginning this weekend at www.imgproducts.net.
You've seen photos of construction progress at Commonwealth Stadium, but today Bell Engineering brings you video from the site shot by a drone flight earlier this month. The video is a few weeks old, but this gives you an idea exactly how much work is going on.
Mark Stoops at SEC Media Days. (Todd Van Emst, SEC)
HOOVER, Ala. -- Back in January, when UK received approval to build a $45 million practice facility, Mitch Barnhart asked the question for the first time.
"We'll have to make the decision: Do we go to turf in the stadium, in the game-day stadium, in Commonwealth or do we stay at grass?" Barnhart said.
In search of every possible means to best prepare their team, Mark Stoops and his staff were considering moving away from the bermuda grass surface at Commonwealth Stadium in favor of synthetic turf.
At Southeastern Conference Media Days on Thursday, Stoops answered the question.
"It looks like we will go to turf after this season," Stoops said.
After the 2014 season, construction crews will tear up the field at UK's longtime home to finish a $120 million renovation. When that happens, Stoops confirmed a new synthetic surface will be installed.
By doing so, UK will maximize the time the team can spend practicing in Commonwealth. Kentucky's temperate climate makes keeping grass in good condition a challenge, particularly during colder months late in the season and during spring practice. That undercuts the Cats' ability to get in work on their home field as much as Stoops would like.
"Our grounds crew does a phenomenal job," Stoops said. "They work their tails off and do an incredible job, but the fact of the matter is, we can't get on that field much."
UK wouldn't be the first SEC school to make the move. Four teams already play their home games on synthetic field: Missouri and Ole Miss play on FieldTurf and Arkansas and Vanderbilt on Shaw Sports Turf. Ole Miss, Arkansas and Vandy have all switched to turf within the last five years.
For schools facing climates more comparable to Kentucky, it's an even more popular choice. Ten of the 14 schools in the Big 10 play on turf surfaces. Even Notre Dame, long famous for its grass field, opted to move to turf this offseason.
This decision, however, is all about Kentucky.
When the three fields in the new practice facility when it opens in 2016 and turf in Commonwealth, UK will be spoiled for choice.
"I think it might be in our best interest to be turf in the stadium, indoor turf and two grass practice fields," Barnhart said in January. "It gives us lots of options in terms of practice."
Bud Dupree speaks to reporters at SEC Media Days on Thursday. (Todd Van Emst, SEC)
HOOVER, Ala. -- Mark Stoops will admit it. He's not an easy coach to please.
"I don't just throw out a bunch of compliments all the time to our players," Stoops said. "They have to earn that."
Bud Dupree certainly has.
"He's a great player," Stoops said. "He's so versatile. He's improved in so many ways. But he's everything you want. He's a great young man, he's a great leader. He's really taken on that leadership role, to help elevate his teammates. And that's what true leaders do."
Dupree, representing Kentucky at Southeastern Conference Media Days on Thursday, has drawn plenty of attention of late for his eye-popping numbers in athletic testing drills. The 6-foot-4, 267 pounder has a 40.5-inch vertical jump and has been clocked running 21.6 miles per hour in full pads, Erik Korem told the Louisville Courier-Journal, which surely has something to do with the fact he was a preseason Second Team All-SEC choice.
Though he's improved in UK's High Performance program, Dupree has always been physically gifted. The real transformation has come in the senior's leadership. Learning from UK's Impact Leadership Program, headed by Jason Cummins, Dupree has established himself as a key vocal presence entering the 2014 season.
"(Cummins) gave me the key role to get outside of my shell and not only benefit myself but benefit the team," Dupree said. "Sometimes I may be a little too involved in my team than I should be because I will go out the way to do everything I need for my team to be successful."
With six weeks to go before the Wildcats' Aug. 30 season opener, Dupree can see his work paying off as he looks to help fill the void left by Avery Williamson.
"I used to tell all the younger guys, like (Ryan Timmons) and Jeff (Badet) and Blake McClain, I would walk up to them every day and tell them, 'You ain't trying to be great,' " Dupree said. "Now they look at me before I even say something to them, like, 'Are you working today? Are you doing extra? I'm finna do extra.' ... And they're bringing along people with them.
"It makes me feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to do and touching others."
For one of Dupree's companions on the trip through the media gauntlet in Hoover, Ala., leadership has come more naturally.
"Personally, I feel like I have the leadership role on the offense and I try and get the guys going on our side of the ball and try and get the young guys coming along. I try to do what I can do," junior offensive tackle Jordan Swindle said. "I feel like it's definitely an innate ability of mine because I've just grown up with a great father figure and family that's just instilled in me character values."
Stoops called Swindle the "unquestioned" leader of the offense, but that didn't happen overnight. Swindle, now a junior, needed a time to establish himself as a player and figure out exactly what UK's coaching staff, now in its second season, was looking for.
"I'm just extremely impressed at the way he goes about his business," Stoops said. "He worked extremely hard in the offseason. And you know, that first year, a lot of it is setting the tone and putting the staples in your program in place, and your core values. Then seeing where you're at, then going into the off-season and improving on them. Jordan was the first one, when we put him in a leadership role and did that, to take charge and do an excellent job of developing team chemistry and leadership."
Jordan Swindle (Todd Van Emst, SEC)
Put in those terms, his task is a tall one. Swindle, however, sees his charge much more clearly.
"It's kind of my goal to make our team better every single day," Swindle said. "If I catch a guy that's not working as hard as he could be or he's not practicing as hard as he could be or he's slipping up in class, I need to go get that guy and confront and tell him he shouldn't be doing that, he needs to get back on track."
It's no coincidence that both Swindle and Dupree view leadership so simply. It all starts with their coach.
"I think he brought that mentality (of improving every day) with him," Swindle said. "It was there before, but it almost became something of a standard. Before, it was kind of like if you did that it was above and beyond. Now it's become something that is if it's not that, it's not right."
On the strength of that approach and the infusion of more incoming talent, Stoops believes he has a different team than a year ago, though the Wildcats were picked to finish last in the SEC East on Thursday by league media.
"We're not worried about that," Stoops said. "You know that. You've heard me say it over and over again: We're worried about getting better. We're worried about putting our head down and going to work. I'm excited. I'm excited about this team and the work they've put in. We're just ready to go to work and get better."
You needn't look any further than UK's Media Days representatives to tell that will start in the trenches.
Dupree and Za'Darius Smith are UK's bookends on the defensive line, poised to wreak even more havoc than a season ago when they combined for 13 sacks and 16 tackles for loss.
"I think that they're an awesome combination," said Swindle, who lines up opposite Dupree in practice. "I feel like Bud is a really, really good pass rusher. He's overall amazing and then Z is overall amazing as well. He's a better run stopper. So when you have those two to balance each other out, it's almost unstoppable."
Swindle, meanwhile, will look to anchor an offensive line that doesn't yet know which quarterback it will be blocking for. Stoops said the battle between Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips, Drew Barker and Maxwell Smith.
"You would love somebody just to take the job and run with it and play great," Stoops said. "But I've also told you that I'm not going to be forced into that decision. I don't want to be sitting here and saying, 'He can't make a decision.' I need somebody to take charge and win that job. We'll see. We feel good about the way spring wrapped up. There is some clarity there. But there's also a lot of competition to go."
When that competition resolves itself -- likely early in fall camp -- the Cats believe questions at other positions will be answered as well.
"The skill players will come," Dupree said. "Once the quarterback situation gets settled in, the skill players will come."
It was an emotional moment for incoming UK freshman Karl-Anthony Towns after he was named 2014 Boys Gatorade Player of the Year on Tuesday night. Check out complete video of his acceptance speech above.
If you were paying close attention, you may have noticed former Gatorade Player of the Year Brandon Knight on stage to present the award. The former and current Wildcats posed for a photo after Towns took home the award.
On June 30, Arin Gilliland received the Honda Inspiration Award at the Collegiate Women's Sports Award. The honor recognized the UK women's soccer star's courage in overcoming her mother's passing and a devastating knee injury suffered at the end of her freshman season.
As part of the CBS Sports Network broadcast, the feature video below on Gilliland's relationship with her mother Letita.
ESPN and Cox Communications have reached an agreement for carriage of the SEC Network on Cox when the multiplatform network launches on August 14, 2014. The channel will be available to fans and followers of the Southeastern Conference in all Cox markets. Cox subscribers will also have authenticated access to additional live events scheduled for the SEC Network's digital platform, with the ability to watch SEC Network content anytime, anywhere on their television, computer, tablet or mobile device.
"Cox is home to some of the biggest fans with five SEC schools in our markets," said Jill Campbell, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Cox Communications. "This is great news for alumni and fans across our footprint who will enjoy all the action and rivalries that have become synonymous with SEC sports."
Added Sean Breen, Disney and ESPN Media Networks senior vice president, affiliate sales: "The ground swell of consumer and affiliate demand increases by the day, and we continue to build on our momentum with the announcement of Cox Communications as our latest distributor that will deliver the SEC Network to fans at launch."
The SEC Network and its accompanying digital platform will air more than 1,000 live events in its first year, including at least 45 exclusive SEC football games, more than 100 men's basketball games, 60 women's basketball games, 75 baseball games, 50 softball games and events across all of the SEC's 21-sports. The network will be an all-access pass to nationally competitive events, news and information, expert analysis, classic games and in-depth features on the most storied conference in college athletics.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said: "The addition of Cox is another very important step in the development of the SEC Network, bringing millions more viewers nationwide to the network when it launches on August 14. As one of the largest cable television distributors in the U.S., including five states in the SEC footprint, this agreement with Cox has a significant impact on exposure for the SEC."
"We are pleased to expand upon our growing list of distributors who have signed agreements for the SEC Network launching in a little over a month," added Justin Connolly, ESPN senior vice president, college networks. "We look forward to serving Cox customers with an unparalleled offering of more SEC content than ever before."
About Cox Communications
Cox Communications is a broadband communications and entertainment company, providing advanced digital video, Internet and telephone services over its own nationwide IP network. The third-largest U.S. cable TV company, Cox serves more than 6 million residences and businesses. Cox Business is a facilities-based provider of voice, video and data solutions for commercial customers, and Cox Media is a full-service provider of national and local cable spot and new media advertising.
Cox is known for its pioneering efforts in cable telephone and commercial services, industry-leading customer care and its outstanding workplaces. For seven years, Cox has been recognized as the top operator for women by Women in Cable Telecommunications; for five years, Cox has ranked among DiversityInc's Top 50 Companies for Diversity, and the company holds a perfect score in the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index. More information about Cox Communications, a wholly owned subsidiary of Cox Enterprises, is available at www.cox.com and www.coxmedia.com.
About SEC Network
The Southeastern Conference and ESPN have signed a 20-year agreement through 2034 to create and operate a multiplatform network which will launch August 14, 2014. The new network and its accompanying digital platform will air SEC content 24/7 including more than 1,000 events in its first year. The network will televise 45 SEC football games, more than 100 men's basketball games, 60 women's basketball games, 75 baseball games, and events from across the SEC's 21 sports annually. Programming will also include in-depth commentary and analysis in studio shows, daily news and information original content such as SEC Storied, spring football games, and more. Hundreds of additional live events from various sports will be offered exclusively on the digital platform.
The feedback we have received through BBN First has ranged from big picture all the way to the minutest of details.
As Mitch Barnhart has written before, nearly all of those suggestions have been constructive. Already, you've helped us shape a new loyalty rewards program and establish priorities as we move forward with our Fan Experience Committee.
Among the topics we'll be addressing in the coming weeks are music selections and parking, but first we want to hear more from you about something that has come up frequently in your emails and comments.
You want game day at Commonwealth Stadium to be special. You want it to feel like Kentucky. You want traditions that reflect that.
One fan, Tom, said it best.
"You don't create a tradition... it is something that builds over time. That said, it wouldn't hurt for this group to identify a few of the traditions we do have and then experiment with things... those that catch on, keep 'em and those that don't, drop 'em."
With your help, we're going to start experimenting.
First off, we're going after the break before the fourth quarter. Recognizing how memorable this point in the game can be, we want to create a signature moment for it.
As we began to toy with ideas, another fan email caught our attention. This one came from Ross.
"I think we need something unburied from our past and make it relevant to students and the fan base as a whole. We need more things to make the game day experience uniquely Kentucky."
Inspired by this, we started thinking about "My Old Kentucky Home," the most uniquely Kentucky song there is.
The song has always been an important part of game day. It's been played by the band pregame in recent years, but we believe it could have an even bigger impact if everyone comes to their feet to sing "My Old Kentucky Home" right before the start of the fourth quarter.
Moving "My Old Kentucky Home," however, is just one option. We're not taking anything off the table, whether we're talking about the third quarter/fourth quarter break or any other point in the game.
Before we talk about some of the other ideas you've given us, let's take a look at the traditions we already have:
Air Raid siren
"It's football time in the Bluegrass!" pregame
Call to the Post pregame
"First Down Kentucky!"
Wildcat mascot pushups after UK scores
Here are some ideas we're considering based on feedback you have already sent:
Slowing down the "C-A-T-S" cheer with the band's involvement
Roving pep band pregame to different tailgating lots and in game to different sections
Using "Go Big Blue!" cheer after kickoff instead of "C-A-T-S"
As you can see, we've had a lot to talk about. That's why we need your feedback.
What do you think about moving "My Old Kentucky Home?" Do you have any other ideas for a pre-fourth quarter tradition? Do you have input on how to improve the traditions we already have or the ones we are talking about creating? What are we missing?
We want to hear from you. Like you, we want Commonwealth Stadium to be a special place on fall Saturdays. Submit a comment using the form on UKathletics.com/BBNfirst or by emailing BBNfirst@uky.edu to help us make that happen.
Earlier this week, the senior defensive end took a field trip to New Circle Road. He knew he was going to see the new UK football "Change The Game" billboard featuring him, but the moment he saw it for the first time was still a special one.
He wasted little time effortlessly picking up Assistant AD Marketing and Licensing Nathan Schwake out of happiness and was on the ground trying to compose himself seconds later.
UK Sports Video was there capturing every moment when Smith saw the billboard for the first time and also when he got an even closer look at the one on Winchester Road. Take a look at the piece they put together.
John Calipari came in second in ESPN's countdown of the top coaches in college basketball. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Over the last month, ESPN has been running down its list of the top-50 coaches in college basketball. As the countdown went on, John Calipari was continually (and expectedly) absent.
On the countdown's last day, Coach Cal appeared.
Ranking only behind Florida's Billy Donovan, Calipari has been named the nation's second-best coach by ESPN. Many UK fans will surely quibble with the ranking, but surely not the story that accompanied the ranking. Eamonn Brennan tells the tale of Coach Cal's first five years in Lexington, capturing what makes UK's head coach so good at what he does.
Here's an excerpt:
Last season's March run was also a helpful reminder of Calipari's sheer coaching ability. We laud coaches for bringing their teams along at the right time, for finding their peak in March. That's the Tom Izzo specialty. Calipari found that gear in his team at the last possible moment last season, and once he figured it out, it was clear why everyone -- himself included -- was so high on Kentucky in October. There is real tactical substance here: a unique, restrained offensive system, an ability to coax great defense out of young players and real fluency in advanced scouting and statistical ideas.
That's the story of John Calipari, the No. 2-ranked coach in our ESPN Forecast top 50 poll. The man is a born salesman. Sometimes, it's subtle, and sometimes, it's about as subtle as a campaign ad. When Calipari refers to himself as a "dream maker," or when he says his program doesn't play college basketball but is college basketball itself, it's hard not to chuckle. But salesmanship resonates only when you have a quality product to sell.
With the announcement of several games over the last few months, everyone has known for some time now that Kentucky's 2014-15 nonconference schedule was going to be special.
Just how special became clear on Wednesday with the release of UK's full nonconference slate.
Kentucky will play 10 opponents who made the postseason in 2014, seven NCAA Tournament teams and a handful of programs who have legitimate hopes of making a run at the Final Four during this upcoming season.
UK will play bluebloods like Kansas and North Carolina, continue arguably the greatest rivalry in college basketball with Louisville, and make neutral-site trips to the United Center in Chicago and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, home to two of the Cats' exhilarating games during their magical 2014 NCAA Tournament run and the site of the 2015 Final Four.
Like last year, Kentucky will kick off the season with back-to-back home games at Rupp Arena, this time against Grand Canyon University (Nov. 14) and Buffalo (Nov. 16).
John Calipari is hoping the home games will prepare his team for an early-season showdown with Kansas on Nov. 18 in Indianapolis. The matchup with the Jayhawks, who trail only UK for the NCAA's most all-time wins, is a part of the State Farm Champions Classic. It's the fourth straight year Kentucky has participated in the event.
The Cats' stay on the road will be brief as they will return for an extended home stand. Over the course of nearly a month, UK will play eight games within the friendly confines of Rupp Arena. First up will be Boston (Nov. 21), followed by Montana State (Nov. 23), UT Arlington (Nov. 25) and Providence (Nov. 30). Kentucky played and beat the latter two last season.
The schedule then heats up at the start of December.
The Cats, who return eight scholarship players from last season's national runner-up team, will face off with an equally experienced Texas team on Dec. 3 before taking on Eastern Kentucky (Dec. 7), an NCAA Tournament team a year ago, and Columbia (Dec. 10).
The final three games of the nonconference schedule are as good as it gets. North Carolina concludes UK's mega home stand on Dec. 13 before the Cats head to Chicago to face UCLA for the inaugural CBS Sports Classic on Dec. 20.
Finally, Kentucky will close out the nonconference schedule with its annual rivalry game with Louisville on Dec. 27 at the KFC Yum! Center. This year's game is being dubbed as the Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the nonprofit Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
UK's 2014 Southeastern Conference schedule will feature nine home games and nine away games, which will be announced at a later date. It's the second third straight year the SEC will feature an 18-game schedule.
Prior to the regular season, the Cats will host a pair of exhibition games at Rupp Arena. The first will be Nov. 2 against Pikeville followed by Georgetown College on Nov. 7. Both are in-state schools. Big Blue Madness is set for Oct. 17 and the annual Blue-White Scrimmage will be on Oct. 27.
Complete games times and TV information will be released at a later date.
A by-the-numbers breakdown of the schedule is available below, but first a look at the full nonconference schedule.
By the numbers
The schedule this season, as we mentioned above, is grueling.
Filled with some of the bluebloods of college basketball, opponents that made the NCAA Tournament last season and are only supposed to get better this year, and mid-majors who are expected to finish at or near the top of their league, it's hard to find a more challenging nonconference schedule than the one the Wildcats appear to have this year.
And that's not by coincidence.
Coach Cal, with the recent help of UK Deputy Director of Athletics DeWayne Peevy, has always tried to form a slate that will prepare his players for the NCAA Tournament and put them in a position to compete for a national championship. The end goal is to bolster his team's RPI, give his players the best chance to succeed and help his program obtain a favorable NCAA Tournament seed, but he must do all that while making sure he doesn't break down his players before the SEC schedule rolls around.
Doing that isn't always easy.
How many big-time games against the likes of a team like Kansas is enough? How many is too many? How many neutral-site games do you play? When do you play marquee games with such a young team? What "mid-major" opponents are going to help your RPI and not hurt it? All those things go into consideration when Calipari and his staff build the schedule.
The 2014-15 schedule uses the same formula of the last couple of years in that it mixes neutral-site games that reflect an NCAA Tournament setting with marquee matchups at home and on the road.
But this one, on paper, looks to be the best of the Calipari era.
Taking the final rankings from last year, the average RPI of UK's nonconference opponent in 2014-15 is 97.4. Six opponents on the slate finished last season in the all-important RPI top 50, including five of the final seven nonconference opponents.
Furthermore, the Cats' 13 opponents in the upcoming year posted a winning percentage of .655 last season, considerably better than the .570 winning percentage UK's 13 opponents in 2012-13 ended with and still better than last year's admirable mark of .634. Remember, Kentucky's strength of schedule last season was No. 2 in the country and this one appears to be even tougher.
But perhaps the most telling proof of the difficulty of the schedule lies in the opponents' postseason play last year. Ten of the 13 nonconference opponents were in some sort of postseason tournament last season (that does not include conference tournaments) and seven of them were in the NCAA Tournament. Five of the teams made it to the third round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament or farther.
Obviously there is no way to predict how those opponents will do next season, but the majority of UK's opponents look primed to build on their 2013-14 success.
For one, Kentucky's most high-profile opponents next season -- Kansas, Louisville, North Carolina, Texas and UCLA -- return a bulk of their major producers from a year ago. All five are expected to be in the preseason top 25 and several could be in the top 10.
But the depth of the schedule comes with teams like Providence, Eastern Kentucky and Boston. The Friars play an exciting style of basketball that brought out the best in Willie Cauley-Stein last season, EKU nearly knocked Kansas out of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and Boston is expected to return four of its six leading scorers from its regular-season Patriot League championship squad.
It's impossible -- and unwise -- for Kentucky to avoid scheduling "mid-major" opponents, but UK can ill-afford to take those opponents lightly in 2014-15. Of UK's seven opponents from outside the so-called "major" conferences, five finished tied for third or better in 2013-14 regular-season play and one (Boston) finished atop the conference. That fits right in line with Calipari's philosophy to play teams that will content for their leagues' automatic bids.
Also of note, 13 of Kentucky's nonconference opponents will hail from 11 different conferences. UK will also play three opponents for the first time.
For those numbers and more, check out the breakdown chart below: