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UK signed a 15-year, $210 million multimedia rights agreement with JMI Sports on Monday. (Jake Most, UK Athletics) UK signed a 15-year, $210 million multimedia rights agreement with JMI Sports on Monday. (Jake Most, UK Athletics)
As he cast a vision for the future when he set foot on campus, Mitch Barnhart had more questions than answers for himself and his staff.

Those questions, though, were posed more as challenges than anything else.

"If we had proper resources, what were the expectations for our programs?" Barnhart said. "Could we be better than who we were? Would we be able to grow our programs and give opportunities for our student-athletes to be competitive in the most difficult league in America and nationally? Could we do that?"

The answer, 12 years later, is a resounding yes.

Poised to finish in the top 15 of the national all-sports standings for the first time in department history, UK is competitive across all sports unlike ever before, but Barnhart isn't content. He's intent on taking UK Athletics to the next level.

That, however, can't happen without help.

"As we do that, you've got to have partners, and you have to have people that you want to work with," Barnhart said.

On Monday, Barnhart identified a new partner.

UK awarded its athletics and campus multimedia rights to JMI Sports, signing a 15-year, $210 million agreement -- one of the most valuable of its kind in college sports history -- that will begin in April 2015. The deal, according to Barnhart, represents an important step toward guaranteeing the financial strength that have allowed UK to give its student-athletes and coaches the resources necessary to go to that next level.

"We're excited about what this means for the University of Kentucky and the stability it provides for our program going forward and just the unbelievable opportunities we think it creates for us as an institution, not just an athletic department," Barnhart said.

The agreement represents a change for UK. The school's current deal -- 10 years, $80.5 million -- with IMG Sports expires next April, so a Request for Proposals was issued this winter to prepare in case a transition would be necessary.

UK's priorities were threefold.

"First and foremost, we want to have a network that our fans can absolutely stay in contact with University of Kentucky athletic teams, the successes that we have, the things that we're doing," Barnhart said.

That will be achieved by continuing to provide a best-in-class radio network. JMI Sports, as part of its proposal, committed to maintaining and developing UK's affiliate lineup, retaining current announcers like Tom Leach, Mike Pratt and Neil Price and even potentially leasing and operating a station of its own in Lexington and/or Louisville.

"We have the opportunity now to reach places through the radio stations that we have in our footprint or in our inventory, whatever you want to call it," Barnhart said. "We have incredible opportunities, I think, to give our fans what they want, and that's to listen to the great talent that we have on the radio, the opportunity to see our teams play when they're not at home."

Next, UK set out to address its facilities, at least in part, through the RFP.

The department has made tremendous strides in recent years -- from the ongoing renovation of Commonwealth Stadium to John Cropp Stadium to the soon-to-be-completed soccer complex -- but Barnhart's facilities checklist remains incomplete, with the baseball stadium, indoor tennis facility and Memorial Coliseum upgrades at the top.

Helping on that front will a $29.4 million signing bonus UK will receive from JMI Sports over the first two years of the media rights agreement.

Finally, UK Athletics sought to strengthen its relationship with the university it represents with its new multimedia rights deal, both in securing its self-sustaining financial status and in adding on-campus multimedia rights to the RFP.

"When you talk about campus rights, we're looking at the non-athletic side, and so looking at opportunities to expand on relationships with existing partners that we may have in the athletic enterprise but new partners," Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Eric Monday said. "It could be everything from digital signage opportunities on the campus and way-finding like another institution is doing. It could be access to students. It could be internships. It could be employment opportunities, guest speakers that we bring to the campus."

Combining those three priorities and an unmatched $210 million offer, JMI Sports was the obvious choice when the RFP process reached its conclusion this spring.

Founded in 2006, the company is a relative newcomer to the industry and UK is its first multimedia rights client. JMI Sports, however, is hardly entering uncharted waters given its experience.

Developer, philanthropist and former San Diego Padres owner John Moores founded the company with Chief Executive Officer Erik Judson. Judson is experienced in athletics himself, having managed major development projects like the Padres' Petco Park and the University of Oregon's Matthew Knight Arena. If that wasn't enough, JMI Sports hired former Greenup, Ky., native Tom Stultz as president, who worked closely with UK during his time as IMG College vice president.

"I think our experience is more than enough of a foundation, but I think actually our perspective is what is going to grow the business, and the approach we are going to take is going to have a flagship in Kentucky that we're going to give a tremendous amount of focus to," Judson said. "Our organization takes this very seriously, and I think the financial contribution certainly speaks to that, but Tom and I personally are going to be involved in this property every day."

The agreement with UK represents JMI Sports' first foray into multimedia rights and some may see that as a risk for a brand as well-established as UK. Barnhart, on the other hand, sees it as an opportunity to take another step toward his vision of building the best athletics department in the nation.

"I don't think that we miss a beat," Barnhart said. "As a matter of fact, I think we get better, and I love the focus that they say we're their flagship and we're their folks, and I like that a lot."

For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

For his final entry, Foster writes about his last hours in Ethiopia and reflects on a trip he'll never forget.


Today was a very calm day, as it was our final day. The only thing on the schedule was to get a little more shopping done and we were all able to find exactly what we were looking for to take back to the States as souvenirs and gifts for friends and family. It was very fun but a little annoying having to negotiate the prices on everything, even for something as small as a plastic bracelet.

After another good lunch, we headed back for the guest house to pack up for our flight. I had packed most of my stuff with the idea that I was going to give it away, so about half of my clothes and food and other usable items went into a bag that I would then give to Mark to donate to Dejene or any other place that he felt needed the help. We also had a team debrief with among all of us discussing what we learned and how the reality of situations differed from our expectations. Mark also handed out a packet of papers for us to look over including ways to sponsor a child, which I filled out to sponsor my man, Dejene. It was a very quick debrief, as we were all so tired and ready to get packed up to get to the airport.

We packed our luggage onto the bus and set out for the airport. Once we arrived, which was around 6:30 p.m. Ethiopian time, saying our goodbyes to our new friends thousands of miles away home was difficult, but it was reassuring knowing we could stay in contact through Facebook. After checking our luggage, heading up to our gate and going through security, it was time to board.

I am now writing this on the plane forcing myself to stay awake as it is around 10:45 p.m. We took off about 30 minutes ago, and I am hoping for a smooth trip to Rome, then D.C., and then to Cincinnati, which is where we will be picked up by a University of Kentucky van to bring us back to the football facility.

This was an unbelievable experience that I will never forget. Seeing the poverty and desperation firsthand is tough to take in, but that is the reality that the people we met live in each and every day. The toughest part about it is the fact that most of the poverty is due to the corruption of the government, and these people are unfortunately just born into this situation. I especially feel for the children, as they didn't have a choice as to where they would be born, and many of them become orphans by the time they are 12 or 13 and are forced to live on the streets. I've learned to appreciate absolutely everything I have been blessed with in my life, even the little things as little as running water and a toilet or even a mattress to sleep on, let alone a clean pair of sheets or clothes.


I am so thankful for the opportunity to see this country and meet the people I was able to meet, as it has forever changed my life and understanding the true difficulties life can bring -- not just a shanked punt or a B in the classroom. Ethiopians fight for survival, literally, as they spend a majority of their day searching for food to provide enough nourishment so they can survive. It's difficult to be able to just write or type my reflection of the trip as there was so much to take in, but the only way that truly describes it is this: Their situation shows true desperation, while we are the most blessed nation on this Earth.


For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

Today, Foster writes about a morning spent with a local youth soccer team on the Wildcats' last full day in Ethiopia.


Today was another very enjoyable day, as we were able to spend much more time with teenagers closer to our age. After breakfast, we traveled to a local private school. We were greeted by a teenage soccer team sporting blue Nike dri-fit tee shirts with white letters spelling out "Kentucky" on the front and their numbers on the back. The soccer team was there because Jason sponsors one of the players on the team, Natnael, and he invited his whole team to spend time with us.

The first part of the day was introducing ourselves to the soccer team and getting to know them. We ventured over to a shady area on school property where we could all sit down. After sitting down, the man in charge of the school talked to us and explained the whole mission of the school, as well as how many children are parts of the institution and how many are sponsored vs. those who are still looking for a sponsor.

While sitting down with the kids, they brought out the three most recent trophies the team has won, all won within the past year or so. Also, several women came out and made coffee, which is a ritual in Ethiopia. The other women then followed suit and offered up popcorn and roasted grain, which are also both commonly served during the daily coffee-drinking ceremonies.

During that time, we also sat with the team and enjoyed each other's company. A conversation about soccer sprung up and of course I jumped right in asking each of their favorite teams and players. Most of the kids were wearing pants affiliating themselves with some European soccer club. There, I was told that I looked like both Gareth Bale and David Beckham. I wish people back in the States believed I looked like David Beckham, too. Other than those conversations, we joked around and got to know each other, but the center of the conversation was always soccer.
 
After introductions, we headed across the parking lot, grabbed a few soccer balls from our parked bus and continued down a hill past the school and to the soccer field. Again, this soccer field was all dirt and rocks with wooden posts outlining the goals, although this one was a bit bigger. We started by juggling, then moved on to a more organized set of drills, which brought very vivid memories of my travel soccer days to mind. After a few of the passing drills, we got our teams ready, and we added their team coach to our roster (very much needed).

This team was very good and very well organized. We went down 3-1 but came back and tied it 3-3 with only 2 minutes or so left in the game. We then played a golden-goal overtime session, and we scored a few minutes in and got the victory which brought our Ethiopian soccer tour record to 3-1 - not too shabby for some American football players...and three Ethiopian footballers. It really was an enjoyable and entertaining game and it created that much more respect between us all.

After the game, we were all very hungry. Conveniently, we had a pizza party planned for lunch. The pizza was the best pizza that we had in Ethiopia: a meat lover's pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage and chicken. After passing out pizza to the team and savoring some ourselves, we thanked the team for giving us their time and hoped and prayed for their well-being in the future. A surprise gift was in store for Jason, as the ultra-shy teenager that he sponsors spoke in front of the entire group on behalf of his team thanking us for everything. It truly was a special moment.

Once we finished lunch, we headed out to a small zoo to see some Ethiopian lions. I've been told that you ultimately have to face your fears to get over them, so this was the time to truly get over my lifelong fear of Scar from "The Lion King." Ethiopian Lions are the only type of lions that have the dark brownish/black manes, which is their main distinguishing characteristic. It was amazing getting to see those huge animals in person, as well some monkeys and very unique deer, including two small baby deer.

After the zoo, we headed out to do some shopping and concluded the day by eating dinner. We then were dropped off at a guest house where Brett Johnson is staying. We started off by playing Ping-Pong, but the burning desire for some Wi-Fi access left Bud, Braylon and myself stranded on the steps of the stairs, as it seemed to be the only definite hot spot. After spending a little over an hour at that house, we started walking back towards a main road, and along the way Braylon screamed like a little girl (typical SEC running back style) after seeing a two-inch wide frog leap across his feet on the group. Even after that terrifying moment, we eventually reached the main road and successfully caught a taxi back to our own guest house.
 
For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

Today, Foster writes about meeting a husband and wife who are changing lives.


Our day began with the arrival of our fellow UK athletes from the swimming and diving team, Maclin Simpson and Lindsay Hill. They got right into the action and hopped on the bus as we set off to visit Abraham and his wife, Salem. Abraham visits UK every January and is very close to Coach Rock Oliver, and his wife runs an organization that makes and sells handmade items such as hats, baskets, jewelry, scarves and tablecloths. They hire most of their employees from the poorest area in Ethiopia, the city that we visited on Friday.

Not only do these people have exceptional talents of making these items, but Abraham and Salem are also helping provide them with work and fair pay. They, being Abraham and Salem, are helping fight poverty and strengthen Ethiopia's economy by creating work for the people who live off of food from the trash dump. Abraham also explained to us that in Ethiopia, men do most of the fabric making.

The products that were made at Salem's business were beautiful enough to receive interest from major American companies. However, they couldn't fulfill the orders due to the substantial quantity ordered as each piece takes a significant amount of time to make. After coffee and tea with Abraham and his wife and a little bit of shopping, Abraham took us to learn firsthand about community initiatives that the business financially supports.

The first was a library. The library was more than just a library, though, as we arrived there right around lunchtime and saw many students filing in to be served lunch. Abraham said that they provide free lunch to any student who can't afford it, so they don't have to continue the rest of the school day being hungry and wondering where their next meal will come. He estimated that 70-80 kids use the library each day.

Not only does the program provide lunch, but it also provides books, computer use and standardized test prep and practice books. Abraham was ecstatic and pleasantly surprised to learn that both Kaleab and Girma, two of our translating friends, had used this program as recently as a few months ago. That just reiterated the importance of the program and how the children really do use and benefit from it.

After leaving the library, we headed to lunch at this pizza place where Bud continued his trend of getting his food last, this time because when he ordered a pizza he told the waitress everything he did NOT want on the pizza, but she thought he said that's what he wanted on the pizza, so they had to make him another one. Also, while at the restaurant we ran into a couple from Louisville, Ky. ... what a small world. After leaving the restaurant, we headed to the Hope Center.

This center was managed by a man by the name of Jeremiah, who is the house dad. He is in charge of "recruiting" kids off of the street by telling them his story and showing them they can change their lives. He then takes them off of the street and into this house, and all Jeremiah and Abraham ask of them is to be open-minded to the change in lifestyle.

Today, all 25-30 of us gathered to introduce ourselves. After each of the old and new teenage members of the house introduced themselves, there was one common denominator: Jeremiah was a wonderful house dad who truly had changed their lives for the better. Jeremiah finished the introductions by telling his touching and emotional story that has many similarities to stories of college and professional football players here in America. He abused alcohol and drugs trying to fulfill himself, but then was ultimately healed by family members and his faith. He provided such detail in the story that made it easy to picture yourself in his situation and completely understand the circumstances he went through.

It was very special to see someone do a 180-degree change in lifestyle and not just stop there, but wanting to provide other kids going through similar situations a way out if they allow him a way in to their lives. Once the seriousness of the life stories concluded, we all wanted to lighten the mood by going outside and kick and throw the Ethiopian and American footballs. As it has been this entire trip, it was so enjoyable trying to teach them how to throw this foreign oblong object.

After throwing the football for a while, I wanted to join them in what they are much more familiar with, as am I: kicking a soccer ball. We had a blast showing each other the moves we know and juggling in a circle, and I even ended the day being compared to Liverpool's Luis Suarez (I don't see it). It was such a wonderful day being able to see how Abraham and his wife's vision has had and continues to have such a powerful and positive effect on kids of all ages.

The lowlight and highlight of the night happened on the way to dinner to Bud and Braylon, respectively. The lowlight was when Bud, once again, was the victim of an attempted pick-pocketing crime. I don't know why in the world they would choose a 6-foot-4, 275-pound man who tackles guys for a living to steal from, but luckily Bud caught them in the act and pushed them away.

The highlight was when Braylon made eye contact with a local Ethiopian who ended up following us all of the way to cupcake and sat down by herself right next to our table and would not take her eyes off of Braylon. It was the topic of conversation at our end of the table for the first 15 minutes of dinner until we realized Braylon wouldn't go sit with her no matter how much we pestered him.

We ended the day having dinner at a restaurant called Cupcake, which to my surprise, had much more than just cupcakes. I had an awesome chicken pesto Panini, with Jason copying my order. And of course, Jason also stole the last piece of red velvet cake they had left, but it's OK...he was just looking after my body composition for Coach Korem.


Matthew Mitchell has pledged $1 million in donations over the next 10 years to UK Athletics. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Matthew Mitchell has pledged $1 million in donations over the next 10 years to UK Athletics. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
In the life of a head coach, 10 years is a long time. Given the competitiveness of college sports, moving is all but a guarantee over the course of a decade.

But on Friday, Matthew Mitchell made a long-term commitment to UK Athletics. Pledging $1 million in donations over the next 10 years to the athletics department with his wife Jenna, Mitchell is showing that UK is more than his place of work.

"The problem we have here at UK now is that even if they ask me to leave coaching, I've become such a big fan then I'll just be at all the games for everybody else," Mitchell said. "Then I'll start calling in on all the call-in shows and really get riled up. It'll probably be better for them that they keep me on for a while because we're not going anywhere."

Jokes about his future aside, it's highly unlikely UK will want Mitchell going anywhere. His seven-year tenure has brought with it unprecedented success for UK Hoops even though Mitchell says it started with Mitch Barnhart taking a chance.

"I wasn't the biggest name that Mr. Barnhart could have hired and so some people would call that good luck or good fortune," Mitchell said. "I call that a blessing. I call that a blessing from God. That's the only way I know how to make sense of it. God's really provided some unbelievable opportunities for me in my life. And for Jenna and me, we have found a home here in Lexington and so we would love to be a big part of this community and do our part in this community and try to help this community move forward."

Mitchell has already shown his commitment to the Lexington community on multiple occasions, but this donation -- the largest ever by a UK Athletics employee to the athletics department -- is the clearest proof yet.

"Matthew has said to me on multiple occasions how much UK and the city of Lexington mean to him and how it's the perfect spot for his wife, Jenna, and his children," Barnhart said in a release. "His ability to grow our women's basketball program into one of the top programs in the country has given him a platform to impact others in a variety of ways. One of those ways is with a philanthropic heart in many areas of our community. He and Jenna wanted to show their appreciation to other sports programs in our athletic department by supporting our capital growth. This gift will allow us to support and grow the things we are trying to do in our football program, which at the end of the day gives support to all of our student-athletes and teams at Kentucky."

Mitchell's gift, spread out in $100,000 over each of the next 10 years, will be used to help fund a variety of capital projects, including football facility upgrades. Mitchell knows those upgrades help not only Mark Stoops' program.

"People need to understand football really makes so many things happen for the rest of us in this department," Mitchell said. "We need football to be thriving and healthy at Kentucky and with Mark Stoops as our head coach I don't have any doubt that that is going to happen."

A $100-plus million renovation of Commonwealth Stadium is already in progress and another $45 million in funding for a new football practice facility was approved in January.

"The incredible renovation at Commonwealth is just really going to put our football program, I think, at the forefront of the country," Mitchell said. "It's going to be a great experience at Commonwealth Stadium in the years to come. We're excited to be a part of that and help that out if we can."

The donation will surely be helpful and appreciated, but it was solely borne out of the Mitchells wanting to make yet another positive impact on the place they've come to call home.

"It's an individual decision because of how good God has been to us," Mitchell said. "No one has pressured us to do this or asked us to do this. This is just what we want to do because of the blessings we've received and it's no more complicated than that. We just love this university. We love the people."

The feeling is mutual.

"I want people to know and understand what special, special people Matthew and Jenna are to this community," Barnhart said. "I'm very thankful for their generosity, team approach and long-term vision to this athletics department and this university."

For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

Next, Foster writes about a day spent relaxing and taking in a soccer game.


Today was scheduled as a much-needed relaxing day. After three consecutive long and tiring days, we finally had a chance to some rest to a second wind for the second half of the trip coming up.

We were able to sleep in a little bit, and then we met downstairs around 8:30 to head to a relatively nice gym named Bole Rock. As we walked to the gym, we were consistently pestered and followed by locals anywhere from the age of 3 to around 50 or 60 begging for money. Once we got to the gym, the begging ended but the attention didn't. We all are much, much bigger than the typical Ethiopian, so once we got upstairs to the gym area, which couldn't be more than 1,500 or 2,000 square feet, all eyes were on us - for Bud and Braylon being so built and me being an obvious foreigner. The workout went very well, but it was hard finding enough plates for Bud and Braylon. Once we did, every time one of us went to lift, all six local in the gym stopped to watch. After our workout, we started our 15-minute trek back to the guest house, and upon our arrival, we had our typical breakfast -- French toast and eggs -- with Bud getting a double order of course. We took a quick shower and we were ready for an optional 11:15 church service.

We arrived a little early, around 11. The worship songs started around between 11:15 and 11:30 and lasted for at least an hour. It was as if it was a game to see who could stand up the entire first hour of the worship. Most people lasted for the first 30 minutes of the music, but after that people started dropping out like flies and sitting down. After the worship singing, a group of missionaries from a Chicago church performed an awesome five-minute dance on stage.

Then, the preaching finally started, after what was the typical length of an entire service here (90 minutes or so). The service was very entertaining, however. The preaching was led by an Amharic-speaking pastor of another church and translated by the English-speaking pastor of the Beza church. It was a wonderful service talking about knowing your true inner self and used the metaphor of our body and flesh being a clay pot. It was an atypical church service for most, if not all, of us, but the consensus was that it spoke a great message, with a fun, upbeat preaching style and translation with a bit long of a worship singing segment.

We then headed to lunch, where Bud and Braylon ordered an entire chicken. I stuck with just half of a chicken. After lunch, we stopped back by our guest house, changed and then we were ready for the soccer game in the afternoon afternoon between the women's national teams from Ghana and Ethiopia. We all went in going to cheer for Ethiopia, except for Gabe, since his parents are from Ghana. Gabe got lucky and felt even more at home after realizing we were sitting in the Ghana section, so he felt that much more comfortable cheering for Ghana after each of their two goals in the 2-0 victory. The most shocking thing to me was the fact that the ambassadors, the most respected and important people, sat literally one row in front of us. We all had plenty of fun during the game and took lots pictures after the game -- even one with the referee crew. After the game, we headed back to the guest house for dinner and put an end to this relaxing day.

In the two months since the launch of BBN First, we've been listening. Now it's time to begin turning all that feedback into action.

A few common themes have already emerged as we've sorted through your suggestions, but there's one that sticks out to me as something that we need to address immediately: rewarding loyalty.

There isn't a fan base in the world more loyal than the Big Blue Nation. Today, we begin an ongoing effort to recognize and reward that.

As a first step, we are announcing a K Fund priority point bonus for football season ticket holders who have been with us for three or more consecutive years, including 2014. The bonus will start at 15 points for those who have purchased season tickets since the 2012 season and go all the way up to 75 points for fans who have purchased season tickets since the 2000 season or earlier according to the following scale.

Last 15+ years - 75 points
Last 14 years - 70 points
Last 13 years - 65 points
Last 12 years - 60 points
Last 11 years - 55 points
Last 10 years - 50 points
Last 9 years - 45 points
Last 8 years - 40 points
Last 7 years - 35 points
Last 6 years - 30 points
Last 5 years - 25 points
Last 4 years - 20 points
Last 3 years - 15 points

As you know, K Fund priority points are very important right now because the order in which fans select their seats for 2015 in The New CWS will be based on K Fund priority ranking as of June 30, 2014. Our Fan Experience Committee designed this reward as a way to show fans who have stayed with us how much they matter. In total, more than 8,000 accounts will receive point bonuses in their K Fund accounts by the end of the month.

We believe this is a meaningful reward, but it's only a start in recognizing fan loyalty across all 22 of our sports. This summer we are going to work through the details of what a new loyalty rewards program will look like.

That's where you come in.

We have some exciting thoughts about what this program can become, but we need your help. What does loyalty mean to you? What kind of rewards would you like to see? What do you think the program should be called? Send in your suggestions using the contact form on UKathletics.com/BBNfirst or by emailing BBNfirst@uky.edu.

This season has been a fun ride. We're on pace for our best finish ever in the national all-sports standings and we know it would not have been possible without the Big Blue Nation. We want to make sure we show that in everything we do.

'Til the Battle Is Won,
Mitch Barnhart

John Calipari has signed a new contract that will keep him at Kentucky through the 2020-21 season. (UK Athletics) John Calipari has signed a new contract that will keep him at Kentucky through the 2020-21 season. (UK Athletics)
Contract details.pdf | Complete contract with addendum.pdf

The conversations that led to John Calipari's new contract were fairly straightforward.

Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart wasn't trying to do anything other than keep the right coach for Kentucky basketball at Kentucky.

"This was agreed to in principle right after the season," Calipari said in a phone interview. "It was let's try to get this right and let's try to get it right for your staff. I want this to be someplace you're comfortable being the rest of your career, and I said, 'That's good, let's do it.' "

They got it done.

On Thursday, UK made official a new contract for Calipari that will last through the end of the 2020-21 season. For Barnhart, the deal is a commitment to a coach who has restored UK to its rightful place atop the college basketball world and deserved recognition of his work.

"We feel like we have one of the premier coaches in college basketball and he certainly needs to be rewarded and recognized for all the things he has accomplished," Barnhart said. "It has long been our goal over the last three to five years that Cal enjoy this as his final stop in coaching and that he has an opportunity to finish his career at the University of Kentucky and hopefully set standards and win championships that will be remembered for many, many years to come."

The contract comes after yet another season of Calipari's name being attached to various NBA jobs through rumor and innuendo, in spite of Coach Cal's constant reassertions of his happiness in Lexington. Putting pen to paper yet again reinforces that he doesn't plan on going anywhere.

"I certainly think the university has made an incredible commitment to Cal and this is a further indication from him that this is where he wants to be long term," Barnhart said. "I think that loyalties are very, very important in the world today. In college athletics it's very hard to find, and his loyalty to this program and this university as many times as his name has popped up is indicative of him wanting to be here and to continue to grow this program.

"I'm sure he's had other opportunities to try the NBA again, but I'm not sure there is an NBA job that is any better than what this program and this fan base can give."

Calipari's contract will increase his annual salary to $6.5 million next season if he returns the following season. The numbers are big and Barnhart doesn't hide from that fact, but deal is dictated by an increasingly competitive marketplace.

The men's basketball program, along with football, plays a crucial role in the success of UK Athletics, helping to fund the 20 other sports sponsored by the school and maintain UK's status as one of the few self-sustaining athletics departments in the nation. As much basketball tradition as UK may have, the importance of an elite coach leading the way cannot be overstated.

"We certainly have the most incredible fan base for basketball," Barnhart said. "We have great facilities. Obviously we always have a dynamic schedule and great exposure. If you put all of those things together and you don't have someone at the head of the thing leading it the right way, it can quickly go the wrong direction. So he has been the right person at the right time at the University of Kentucky and has done a fabulous job of leading our program and is very deserving of an extension of his contract."

Calipari didn't pretend to know what outsiders will make of his new contract, nor does he care all that much. His only interest is continuing to do work at UK that can be done in precious few places.

"All I know is that Kentucky is one of those places that is unique to work," Calipari said. "There's great satisfaction, yet it's one of those jobs that it's hard to stay on top of. It's just what it is. I don't know the statement that's made other than hopefully people look at us and they see that we've set a standard on a lot of different fronts, from academics to what we've done on the court to developing players to developing young men and then also what this position can do as far philanthropic endeavors and how this position can be leveraged into something that's bigger than all of the little pieces combined."

When Barnhart hired Calipari five years ago -- time both agreed has "flown" by -- that was the goal both had in mind, to compete at the highest level while also enriching the lives of the student-athletes who made it all possible. On both fronts, it's impossible to qualify Calipari's tenure as anything other than a success.

Calipari's record at UK is a sterling 152-37 (.804 winning percentage), including 18-3 in NCAA Tournament play with a national championship, another title game appearance this season, a Final Four Berth and a trip to the Elite Eight. No school has more wins than Kentucky in the tournament since Calipari's arrival.

It's a similar story of excellence off the floor.

For the sixth time in seven semesters, UK posted a team grade-point average of 3.0 or better this spring. The program's APR scores also remain high, including a perfect score of 1,000 in 2012-13 and a most recent four-year composite score of 989.

"What Cal has done is returned us to those glory days of Final Fours and championship efforts, great players, and all along he's helped young people understand the responsibility of going to class, of the commitment to each other and to a program that has as rich of a tradition as this one does," Barnhart said. "So those are not easy tasks at any level, and he manages it all with incredible effort, great excellence and has done a marvelous job of managing the program."

Calipari had a vision for what he could accomplish when he became coach, but even he could not have foreseen all this.

"You know what, I knew it was a unique place," Calipari said, "but if you told me you would have nearly 20 guys drafted in five years, that you'd have the number of wins that we've had, which may be the most in the country, that you'd have three Final Fours, two national championship games and all that, and have four straight years of a 3.0 or better, and have an APR that is one of the highest in the league, I would have said, 'You're asking for everything. You want everything!' "

By recruiting at an unprecedented level and focusing on helping student-athletes achieve their dreams, Calipari has delivered. To the former players who starred at UK and now are scattered throughout the NBA, that's why Coach Cal's new contract is so important.

"This is a great move for the basketball program and the university as a whole," John Wall said. "Coach means more to UK than just wins on the floor. He helps change lives for both his players and their families, as well as people in the community in ways that a lot of people don't know. I'm really happy for him and his family."

Wall and his fellow former Wildcats know Calipari in a way few do. Because of that, they know there's no better coach for Kentucky.

"I have the utmost respect for Cal," said Anthony Davis, who followed Wall as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. "He has always had my best interests in mind, from before the recruiting process, while I was at Kentucky and now that I'm gone. He's like a father figure to so many players that come through UK. He really wants to help all of us succeed in our own ways. I'm glad to see that he will be the coach at Kentucky for a long time."

Exactly how long remains to be seen.

Coaching at Kentucky, according to Barnhart, is a 24/7 proposition and Calipari knows it's not a challenge that can be undertaken half-heartedly.

"It's not a place that you can plant your flag for a 28-year run nowadays," Calipari said. "It's just not. As long as I'm having a lot of fun, as long I am helping families and young people reach their dreams, I'll be good. But again, my plan all along, even when I was 30, was I'm going to coach until I'm 55 or 60 and give everything I have while I'm doing it. Leave nothing on the table."

With that approach, Calipari continues to raise the bar and expectations have followed suit. Add in his new deal and a stacked 2014-15 roster and those expectations go through the roof.

"The contract is substantial," Barnhart said. "There's no question about that. High expectations come with those kinds of things. So it's not easy. You do get rewarded for some of the things you've done, but with those rewards also come expectations and those come for a variety of reasons. One, it comes from where you live. You live at Kentucky; the expectations are already there. You add to it outstanding recruiting. And then you throw on top of that a contract and everybody goes, 'Well, those three things together, the expectations went from one level to another level.' "

"I will tell you that it's been an amazing five years," Calipari said. "And now, it's Kentucky - there's an expectation that we're going to do better. I don't even know what better would be. I mean, what is better? Like, let's go for it, but I don't even know what that would look like."

If his first five years are indication, Calipari might just surprise himself again over the next seven.

For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

To start, Foster writes about a day spent visiting local jails and playing soccer with locals.


Today was expected to be a very long day, and that expectation was proven to be true. Our day started earlier than usual as we had around two hours of traveling to Debre Zeit, a city south of Addis. After breakfast and a long drive that many of us spent sleeping, we arrived at Sammy and Ruth's house. Sammy and Ruth are a husband and wife originally from India who moved here to serve young Ethiopians.

Our first task of the day was to create goodie bags of personal soap, laundry detergent and a few other things. Once that was finished, we headed to the backyard to make to-go boxes filled with a hot meal consisting of injera (sour, spongy, traditional Ethiopian food) and a red, spicy sauce made with sheep meat. The sheep was bought, slaughtered and cooked all within 24 hours! We prepared over 30 hot meals for the prisoners and police officers we were about to visit. We then had about 30 minutes of free time after all of the goodies were packed up on the bus, so we played with their two daughters, who are both absolute joys, for the remainder of the time. During that time, we played soccer, introduced them to a football, and then the ultimate winner was when I threw them up in the air to let them "fly." Also, during this time, I asked the older daughter if she wanted gum, and I believe I created an addiction, because she asked me for gum at least 15 different times during the remainder of today.

When the time came, we boarded the bus and set out for several different jails. Once we arrived at the first one, I was very surprised to see how small this prison was. It had three main holding cells, each with about five or six inmates. The security seemed very, very relaxed and the walls to the prison area were about four or five feet tall, just asking to be jumped. We then served lunch -- the sheep stew, injera and a banana -- along with giving each prisoner and police officer a t-shirt and a personal care goodie bag.

After visiting with the prisoners and policemen of two different prisons, we headed back to Sammy's to have a traditional lunch. Sammy and his family were very hospitable and welcomed us into their house with open hearts. Sammy had prepared some traditional Indian cuisine of curry with pita bread, some traditional Ethiopian cuisine of sheep and injera, and fresh mangoes and bananas. It became obvious how talented of a cook Sammy is after the first bite of the traditional Indian cuisine. After introducing ourselves and receiving a rose as a welcoming gift, we helped clean up the room of our plates and packed up some more items onto the bus to take to some widows' houses.

We packed up the bus and headed out to visit some widows and bless them with some essential foods and necessities. The desperation and need for help was obvious at each of the five widows' houses that we stopped at. Many of their houses were smaller than a typical bedroom in the United States -- roughly 10 feet by 10 feet with concrete or dirt floors. We also had the privilege of praying over them and praying for their future well-being and thanking God for allowing us the ability and resources to travel to them and provide a few items for each of them. It was truly a blessing, as it has been this whole trip, to be able to provide for people and seeing their reaction of gratitude is beyond satisfying.


By the time we finished visiting the last of the five widows we planned to see, it was already 3:45. I say, "already," because there had apparently been a small soccer tournament scheduled around our visit at around 4. We drove to the area that we were about to play at, and I can't say that I had ever played on a field like that. This "field" was all dirt; not a single blade of grass had grown on it. The goals were made out of timber found around the village, and as no surprise, had no net. On one side of the field was a stone-lined gutter/ditch, while the other side had a small hill, and the field seemed to be located in the center of several housing villages.

Upon arriving at the field, there were around ten younger children who were quick to greet us after getting off of the bus, and about five or six young adults about the same age as us warming up on one of the goals. We brought out both a soccer ball and a football to play with and teach the kids about American football. After 20 minutes or so of just kicking the soccer ball around and throwing the football, many locals must have heard about our arrival and had made their way to this field. We started to seriously get ready for the games we were about to play.

We got the teams set, our group and our three translators vs. their group, and then we kicked off. We played three games in a row, winning the first two and losing the last one. We, without a doubt, shocked many people, me included, with how well we played. Catching your breath during exercise here in Ethiopia is much more difficult, because it is around 9,000 or 10,000 feet above sea level. The important thing about these soccer games was just being able to show the kids in the village that we cared about them. And when there is such a language barrier, the best way to communicate is through sports.

We then headed out after coffee at Sammy and Ruth's and had the long drive back to the guest house in Addis. I don't know what it is, but the bus rides rock us to sleep like babies, because within 10 minutes or so, we were all knocked out for the two-hour ride or so back to the guest house. We then had dinner and then headed upstairs to get some more sleep. That is after watching the Champion's League Final, of course, in true soccer watching style - an iffy, static picture with no sound. It was by far the worst quality picture I've watched any sporting event on in a long time, but I'm glad I did, so I can truly get a grasp on every aspect of the culture. The game ended in a disappointing fashion, in my personal opinion, as Real Madrid beat Atletico Madrid in extra time 4-1 after tying it up at one each only two minutes before the time had expired.

Today ended up being the most fun day of the trip up to this point. Growing up surrounded by soccer, I felt at home playing the three games today and then watching the game tonight. The important parts of the day were also rewarding, though. Helping the prisoners is something I have never done before, and honestly probably will not ever do again, but it was definitely a great experience doing it. Along with this fun day comes great exhaustion...therefore, goodnight! Tomorrow should be a much lighter day of rest, and it could not have been scheduled at a more perfect time.


For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

To start, Foster describes his first full day in Ethiopia, during which he met a special young man.


Writing this entry is going to be tough for several reasons. First, I am exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally. It was such a long day that brought both tears of joy and tears of sympathy. We started the day with breakfast -- our typical order of French toast with scrambled eggs (with peppers), some tea and coffee, and of course Sammy bear (the syrup brand).

After breakfast, we were headed to one of the poorest sections of Addis Ababa. Here, many people are forced to scavenge through the dump for everything necessary to survive due to the poor health of many of the people that reside there - a mixture of leprosy and HIV infected populations.

Once we parked, we headed to a local community center. As soon as I stepped off the bus, I could tell that this area was even worse than the areas we visited yesterday, as these living conditions can't get much worse. It was hard to believe I was about to venture into a territory like this, but I put my personal reservations behind me and was ready to face the reality of survival for the 130,000 people or that live there.

We walked about 15-20 minutes through the village until we arrived at the community center. We were greeted with joy and much gratitude by the leader of the center along with several women and a young male teenager, Dejene. In a small lawn in front were about 30-35 widowers and lepers who clearly were uplifted as soon as we walked in. We entered a room and began an assembly line to make "goodie bags" of necessities that these men and women probably only see once or twice a year, like macaroni, rice, sugar, soap, matches and another item or two. We filled 30 or so bags and then took them out on the concrete porch in front of the crowded lawn space.

Passing out these bags, just as it was yesterday, made me think so much of what I have back home and what I deem a true necessity. When I walked out to hand some of the bags out, I was greeted by so much constant gratitude and love in Amharic that saying "you're welcome" just didn't seem enough to me, but that's all I could do. The language barrier is so tough when you have so much to say but there isn't a way to verbally say it all. This is where the nonverbal gestures became the primary source of communication. Just a smile from us put an amazing sense of security and gratitude on their faces. It was humbling being able to truly change someone's day, week, month and even year just by a simple smile and a bag of truly basic necessities.

Once we finished passing out the bags, it was brought to our attention that many of these people, due to their leprosy or weakness from malnutrition and their living conditions, could not possibly carry the bags back to their homes. Therefore, we carried the bags through the dump to their houses. I happened to be carrying two bags as two people lived near each other in the same area.  Remember Dejene, that boy that I met earlier? He for some reason tagged along with me and asked several times to carry a bag for me but I declined the first several times until about 20 minutes into the walk, I was getting a little sore and he could tell so he simply took one from me.

I found out he spoke English after trying to speak Amharic to him saying, "Hey, what's up, how old are you?" in Amharic. He simply replied in pretty good English, "What's up, I'm 15. How old are you?" I still answered in Amharic saying "Hiya (20)." It was pretty funny looking back at it, swapping the norm of languages. We finally arrived at the ladies house and her son, who spoke very little English, greeted me, but his gratitude was also easily expressed. The floor of her house was all mud. Mud walls reinforced by tree limbs created some shelter but there were many leaks that proved to be devastating during the rainy season. After saying a quick prayer for her safety, health and thanking Him for allowing us to be able to provide support to her, we said our goodbyes and headed back.

On our way back we passed what seemed to be tin/aluminum garbage receptacle, but I was then informed that is where the nightly guard sleeps. The box couldn't have been six feet long and four feet wide and tall. We eventually got back to the community center where we busted out some Ethiopian footballs (soccer balls) that we had brought with us. Myself, Gabe, Wario and Dejene began passing the ball and juggling in a circle until I worked up quite a sweat. My touch had pretty obviously gotten worse since the last time I had touched a soccer ball (four years ago) but there was so much joy playing a game that the locals and I all love.

We then walked out of the church and saw some local kids (around 8-12 years old) and asked them if they wanted to play. They took us to what they called a field, but I would call it more of a rock-filled dirt patch that was on a slope and had several boulders sticking out of the ground. Goals were set up using bigger rocks and we had our makeshift field set, home-field advantage clearly going to the locals. The teams were quickly set with Gabe, Wario, Girma, Dejene, Bud and me making one team and what seemed to be at least 10-12 local kids making up the other. Seeing and playing soccer with Bud is one of the highlights in my life. Seeing a 6-foot-4 275-pound future NFL defensive end hesitate to go up for a header against some 5-foot, 120-pound kids is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives. He eventually got the hang of it and started playing like a natural, other than the fact that most soccer players are as gigantic as he is. I hadn't had that much fun playing soccer, or any sport for that matter, in a long time. It truly is amazing how we as Americans can travel thousands of miles into Ethiopia where there is no common verbal communication, but the game of soccer itself becomes the form of communication and forms a bond with the local Ethiopians just by playing with them and sharing our time and love for them.


After we won the soccer game, we headed back to the church to meet up and get ready for lunch. Dejene was always right by my side everywhere we went, and it gave me so much time and opportunity to break him out of his shell. He was very shy at first, which made me have to keep the conversation going. I completely understood though, and I was starving for his life story and getting to know everything about him. We invited Dejene to come out to late lunch with us, so he followed us back to the bus and again, was never more than 3 feet away from me. From the bus ride to the restaurant, to the one-on-one "lunch date" with Dejene, to the bus ride back to take him home, there was some quality bonding time. I genuinely respect him and his story to the utmost extent.

This is a boy who never met his mother and lived with his father until he was around 8 or 9 years old when his father married. The woman he married had something against Dejene from day one. She would beat him and deny him any food or clothing or any level of caring for him. He was forced to move out on the streets around a year later just to survive.

It was there where he found his way into and out of an orphanage and being taken in by his best friend who is a few years older than him. He was then fortunate enough to be able to be sponsored, which gave him the funds for a private education along with guaranteed meals for the month. During his time at school, through all of this adversity, he achieved and maintained a 3.6 GPA until his sponsorship was abruptly cut. He was in 11th grade when his sponsorship was stopped, so he still needs two more years of school before he can take the Ethiopian national placement exam to see if he can go to the University. He loves biology and wants to be a cardiologist!

After the way he made me feel safe on our walk to deliver supplies earlier in the day, Dejene's name fittingly means "protector." We found a big-time common ground in our favorite TV show -- Prison Break. We also found similarities in our internal personal drives to succeed in life. Dejene fills the room with happiness and contentment every time he shows his huge, beautiful smile, even though it is tough to get it out of him sometimes.


I can't express how much Dejene already means to me and how much I care for him and want to return the favor and be his provider and protector. It brought me tears of joy when he told me how much he loved me and considered me family and how comfortable he felt around me. I really hope I am able to see him again, but we are already Facebook friends I am positive I will keep in touch with him, and hopefully I will be able to sponsor him, so he can go back to school and graduate. I see an amazing kid, with an amazing drive and work ethic who has lived through so much adversity, literally having no one to care for him. No mother, father, brothers, sisters or cousins. Obviously, I haven't had to live through anywhere close to the kind of adversity as he has, but I do understand the sense of loneliness that he has to be feeling. Being an only child, I missed out on being with brothers and sisters, and I truly wish I had a sibling to have that type of relationship with. I feel so remorseful, sympathize for him and empathize with him. I hope I will someday be able to bring him over to the United States to give him the opportunity of his life that he deserves to become the best cardiologist he can possibly be. Meeting Dejene and getting to know much of his story truly has inspired me to become a better person.

On our way back to the Addis Guest House, we stopped at a shoe store run by a woman who came through one of the programs at the community center headed by our friend and host, Mark. The shoes' soles are made from old tire treads, so they are very environmentally friendly.

With such an emotional and amazing day behind us, Bud provided us with humor throughout the day. Miscommunication due to the language barrier is expected, but the fact that there needs to be an intermediary translator to get from Bud's dialect to English that our translator friends can understand makes us laugh every day. However, today provided the best quotes by far.

Quotes of the day by Bud: 1) At dinner, Bud informs us that his last name isn't spelled Dupree, it's DuPree. His response "Yeah, I just found that out a few years ago."
2) After dinner tonight, our waiter comes to our table after being called over by Mark. We had just finished talking about room towels. Bud thinks Mark is calling him to inform him about our towel problem, but is in reality calling him over for the bill. Bud raises his hand and says to our waiter "Yeah, were going to need three regular towels and two hand towels." The waiter walks away puzzled. We all laugh.


Bud's quotes aside, it was an emotionally, physically and mentally draining day, but such a great and fulfilling one for me personally. Dejene will be a part of my life forever, and hopefully I can find a way to financially support him to continue and finish his schooling to give him the opportunity to become the cardiologist he dreams of being. As exhausted as I am, I still need to get these push-ups, abdominals, and squats in before I can get some much needed rest.

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