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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Since the Southeastern Conference and ESPN jointly announced the launch of the SEC Network 15 months ago, hundreds of people have been hard at work.

That year-plus of labor will come to a head in barely week when the SEC Network launches on Aug. 14.

The nerves, of course, are there. Given the pressure that comes with covering the nation's best conference and serving its insatiable fans 24/7, that's natural.

That feeling, however, is outweighed by excitement to finally go on the air.

"Hey, let's go," Dari Nowkhah said. "We keep rehearsing. When you guys are going around asking football players, 'What will it be like to go hit somebody else?' Well, that's exactly what this is."

Nowkhah's comments came at an open house hosted at the SEC Network's headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. Media members were invited to tour the facility, which has long been home to ESPNU. The tour included stops in the studios where cornerstone SEC Network shows will be filmed, as well as access to the personalities that will be the face of the network.

"Our on-camera talent, I think, rivals any network anywhere," said Stephanie Druley, ESPN's vice president of college networks.

That begins on the set of SEC Now, the SEC Network's SportsCenter equivalent hosted by Nowkhah, Peter Burns and Maria Taylor. It extends to the Paul Finebaum Show and SEC Nation.

Perhaps nothing better demonstrates what the SEC Network will be about than SEC Nation, which will make stops at all 14 conference campuses this season. Florida star Tim Tebow and LSU national champion Marcus Spears will serve as analysts alongside host Joe Tessitore and reporter Kaylee Hartung for the SEC Network's answer to College GameDay.


"For us, we want to be that same thing for the SEC, but more in a way of we want to give the viewer an opportunity to experience what's it like to be in a tailgate, what's it's like to be a fan, what it's like to be a player," Tebow said.

The show will have a distinctly SEC flavor, with all talent having deep ties to the conference they'll cover.

"When I think about the SEC Network and especially our show, the one thing that comes to mind is that we're of the people," Spears said. "That's the difference, more than anything, is that we're dedicated to one conference."

It's a conference that deserves that kind of dedication, as well as the unprecedented distribution it will receive at launch. With Wednesday's announcement that Charter Communications has signed on, the SEC Network will be in more than 90 million American households on Aug. 14.

Oh yeah, and the International Space Station.

"A lot of people asked, 'What do you do next?' " ESPN Senior Vice President of College Networks Justin Connolly said just after announcing the Charter deal. "And I thought the Tennessean beat us to the punch on that. We're going to outer space."

Rabid SEC fan Barry Wilmore, an astronaut set to depart for his next mission on Sept. 25, lobbied successfully for NASA to provide the SEC Network in the space station. He'll enjoy the more than 450 live games that will air on the network, not to mention the hundreds more that will be shown on the SEC Network's digital platform.

Wilmore won't be in space in time for the Kentucky basketball games in the Bahamas that will be shown on the SEC Network Aug. 15-17, but most of the Big Blue Nation will surely be watching.

Three years ago when UK played preseason exhibitions in Canada, games were shown only locally on the UK IMG Network. This international trip will be on national television.

"I actually think it crystallizes how this network can create opportunities that haven't existed in the past," Connolly said. "Ordinarily I don't think those games get televised. We made a decision: The ability to have Kentucky on and show players that fans haven't seen before, show the Harrisons back and be able to do that over the Bahamas tour, we just jumped at it."

Millions of fans throughout the country figure to jump at the chance to watch as well.


In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Montana Whittle, Danielle Fitzgerald and Charlie Reymann each write about an unforgettable day spent in the poorest area of Addis Ababa.


Montana Whittle

Where to start?

I find myself at a loss of words, because this experience cannot be described. There are no words or pictures that do this place justice. I wish I could let you see my memories and feel what I have felt. I will do my best to help you understand this place and its people, but I would highly encourage you to explore this world yourself and challenge you to keep an open mind.  

Today started with an amazing plate of French toast and a cup of coffee, and finished with me questioning my entire existence.  After breakfast we were given a brief explanation of what the day would bring. At this time I thought I was going to change lives, but the truth is that my life would be changed, forever. We were told that we were going to visit the poorest part of Addis Ababa. It is about one square mile, maybe a little bigger, and is home to over 100,000 people. These people are the poorest of the poor, most of them have been shunned due to disabilities and illnesses, such as leprosy or HIV/AIDS.  

We pull up in our van to Mark's office and children swarm us. From the minute we walked outside to the time we left, those children held our hands. They were so excited to meet us and tell us about themselves. All they wanted was for us to remember them, pray for them, love them. These children had such a huge impact on me. They were the happiest kids I had ever met, and yet they had nothing. Most of them had shoes that were falling apart and clothes that were worn thin. The two boys who held my hand had asked me for things, such as clothes, shoes or food. It broke my heart that we were not allowed to give them anything, because it would be unfair to those who did not get something. All I wanted to do was give these kids everything they needed; I wanted to tell them that everything was going be OK. But, the truth is, I had no idea. The memory of these children chasing after our van when we left will stay with me forever.

Our mission today was to deliver food and supplies (coffee beans, macaroni, salt, matches and soap) to widows and families in need. At the office we met the women and children who were going to be receiving these supplies. These women were inspirational. Faithful. They were so grateful, even though some of them could not even walk. Two women in particular really impacted me because one was in a wheelchair and the other had a daughter who could not walk, so she carried her on her back. When we delivered their food to their homes, the walk was not short. These mothers did not complain. In fact they were overjoyed just to meet us and have us see their homes.

I have never seen such poor living conditions, where their walls were sod, their roofs were tin and their floors were mud. A large house would be the size of our bathrooms in America. Yet, we were invited in without a moment's hesitation. They were so proud and had no shame; they wanted us to see everything in their homes and even offered us coffee. The first thing they did was thank us and tell us that they would be praying for us every day. I could not help but get emotional; I was not the one who needed prayers. I have never seen God work through people so much. They had so much going against them -- missing limbs, leprosy, unable to walk, crooked feet -- and yet they still were so patient with us, still so loving, still so faithful, still so happy.  


My experience today and every day this week was unreal and unforgettable. Now that I am home, all I can think about are those beautiful people that I met and my plan to return in the future. This experience has caused me to question everything that I know and everything that I want. Everything that was so important to me in the past is not important anymore. I know this experience has changed me for the better and I hope I never forget the faces and hearts of the people of Ethiopia.

Danielle Fitzgerald

Today was spent in one of the world's poorest places, which is built around the city dump. We started the morning with our standard "UK breakfast special" consisting of French toast and eggs but nothing we saw after was familiar. We were aware of the immense state of poverty but familiarity stopped there.

As we rolled up to the office that works to provide sponsorships to the people of the area, we were instantly greeted by big grins and precious little hands that wanted to be held. The instant joy the kids felt from simply having somebody touch them was quite overwhelming.

Mark took us into the office where we formed an assembly line to package macaroni, salt, body soap and other items for people who had been put on the sponsorship wait list. The recipients were sitting outside of the office and even though most were suffering from starvation, HIV/AIDS or leprosy, the pure joy they expressed seemed to be most contagious. We each carried a bag full of necessities to different houses, kids still in tow throughout the day. Although their houses' sizes were more comparable to a standard American bathroom than an American house, everyone was so proud to show us their homes and invite us to stay.

Each member of our team had about three kids latched onto them throughout the day and close to 100 followed us both when we were walking from house to house and running closely behind when our van took us to other parts of the town. There are few words to describe the emotions felt when a swarm of kids chases your van for miles and the two or three kids you've grown very close to come find you again, happy as can be to have done so. The simplest things brought them the most joy: thumb wars, hand games and skipping through the streets. Not even a language barrier could hinder that. Many of the kids would push their way through the line of hands to get closer to us but they did not realize they were the real celebrities, their endless love and eagerness to get to know us more admirable than our presence.


One of the hardest parts of the day was leaving the kids we had established relationships with. Eyes teared up when our new friends asked for pens to write their names on our arms in hopes that we would remember them forever and keep them in our prayers. Nothing can prepare you for the moment that two little girls ask you to take them home with you because life would be better that way.

It is so easy for us to get caught up in how busy our own lives are and forget about what is really important. These people don't have money to spend, cars to drive or cell phones to obsess over. They do have each other. And without worldly relationships, they still have a strong faith in God. I have never been so overwhelmed by such a concentrated sentiment of love. Relationships were valued so much more when there was not an emphasis on material possessions. Every person we came in contact with was significantly happier with their lives than I have ever seen before and I believe there is something to be said for that. Material poverty and spiritual wealth may not look glamorous from the outside looking in, but a completely different story was told once we were able to see from these beautiful people's perspective, even if only for a small fraction of time.

Charlie Reymann


Today was our second day in Ethiopia and it was full of eye-opening experiences. We started off with breakfast and then traveled to an area considered one of the poorest places in Ethiopia. The city began when all the people with leprosy were sent away and as time went on more and more outcasts were sent here. It surrounds a trash dump, and sometimes the people will search in the dump for food or supplies for their houses. We knew going into this day that this will be something we will never forget.

It is such a blessing to be able to experience a place like this. As we arrived, the first observations we had were the amount of people on the streets and what they called their homes. In the U.S. a home like we saw would make people look the other way. The houses were made from mud, wood and tin roof. And they were just thankful to have a home, something I think we all take for granted.

Once we arrived, we teamed up with a community center to provide some of the people in the community with a month's worth of supplies. The community center we worked with sponsors women and men from the city. The people that we helped today were men and women in line for the next sponsor. Some of the supplies we gave to them were macaroni, coffee beans, sugar and soap. We split up into little teams to make the process go as smoothly as possible. Since we are all athletes we all know how to work in a team, so we got to work.

Once we were done we all got the privilege to hand these men and women their supplies, which was a wonderful sight. Seeing their faces as we gave them the supplies was remarkable. They all said "God bless you" in English when we gave them their bag. After we gave them their supplies, some of us followed them to their houses to help carry them. These women came a long way to get their supplies, if I had to guess the farthest was two miles. And the lady who traveled the two miles was in a wheel chair!

As we walked with these women, questions came into my head. How does a place get like this? How does any human live in this city? Is there any solution to this problem? We may never know the answers to those questions but seeing the children filled us all with joy. Children came from everywhere to walk with us like we were rock stars. Each of us had at least three children holding our hands. Their smiles and joy were contagious to all of us. A place where it is hard to find anything to be happy about, these children could not stop smiling.

As I walked with these kids, I realized they were just happy to be alive. Video games and computers did not matter to them unlike kids in America. Materialistic goods are what most Americans really care about: their phones, their cars and their jewelry. These people have nothing and they all act like they have everything they need and more. It made us realize that we do not need all the "things" we own to be happy. They just enjoyed being with their friends and walking around with Americans for the day. And making new friends! We were their idols. They were thankful for a new friend, and that someone will be thinking about them. We get so caught up in our little world that we are not thankful for small things in life because we take them for granted.

We all went back to the community center to regroup and get ready for lunch. We went to a restaurant and almost everybody ordered a pizza. My pizza was delicious! We travel with three Ethiopian kids our age to help us learn the culture, translate, and most of all become our friends. Their names are Wario, Girma, and Khalib. They all made us try this green hot sauce that was like fire in your mouth. According to them everyone is used to hot spices in Ethiopia so when Americans come, they are not used to how hot the food is. Besides the green sauce that we tried everything was great and we headed back to explore the city a little more.

After lunch, we walked right up to the dump. We went inside a small village that was right next to it and the craziest thing happened. The little kids who were with us all morning found us and walked with us again!

I could not understand how some of these families can live this close to the dump and be so happy with their lives. No one would ever live as close to a trash dump as these homes were in the United States. We all went into the village and Mark called us around this small boy. He then told us that the kid he was holding up had a tumor above his eye not too long ago. One of the families who sponsored his family paid for this child to have his tumor removed. The kid could not have been more than four years old. This story touched all of our hearts. God used the sponsor to save that little boy's life. A remarkable story that we will never forget.

In Ethiopia everything is about relationships, and I experienced that right when I got off the bus. A little kid named Honuk, 10 years old, ran right up to me and asked me my name. I was very impressed with his English, and for the rest of the day we were best friends. He asked me questions about everything that had to do with America and told me as much as he could about his life. Listening to him talk about his life just made me want to help him in every way I could. I gave him one of the soccer balls we brought and he was so excited to get a new ball. As he was carrying the ball around all his friends you could tell he felt really special that he had the new Nike soccer ball. Throughout the day I kept finding myself thinking how smart this kid is and if there was anything I could do to help his life. He was so joyful and happy to be where he was.

All the kids were so happy! They were happy because they know that they mean something to someone who lives outside their village. That means so much to them. Honuk and some of the other kids wanted us to remember their names so bad that they wrote them on our arms. He borrowed a pen from a street vendor and pressed as hard as he could to spell out his name. The moment that will never leave my mind is when we were all getting on the bus to leave my new friend Honuk ran up to the bus and waved for me to open the window. With a smiling face and love in his eyes he said, "Charlie, I will miss you. I will pray for you." Those were the types of moments we all experienced today and I think we all agreed that we will never forget this day.

Walking through the city we saw more little kids laughing, playing, and loving each other than anywhere in the U.S. We saw mothers more proud of their homes than most mothers in America. They might not have as much money or opportunity but they have more joy and spirit. This day was an incredible day that we will always cherish in our hearts.  

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Jared Philips writes about the group's arrival in Ethiopia.


By Jared Phillips

Today's the day. We are traveling to Ethiopia! Our team got up early and headed to the airport where waiting in lines, flight delays and confiscation of necessary items at security awaited us. However, we were all incredibly excited for this trip, so these events were merely slight bumps in the road.

We boarded our nearly 13-hour flight to Addis Ababa shortly after noon in Washington, D.C., and finally touched down on a cloudy, cool morning at Bole International Airport at roughly 9:30 a.m. local time.  Our team's exhaustion quickly turned into exhilaration after landing in what was a novel experience for all of us but Jason (Schlafer, the senior associate athletic director accompanying student-athletes): Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Surprisingly quickly, we made it through customs, picked up our baggage, and walked out of the terminal. I got a taste of how kind the Ethiopian people are when a lady stopped me as our team was leaving the terminal and personally welcomed me to Addis Ababa; it was rather touching to see someone as welcoming as she was. As soon as we were outside, we were in awe what was before us: a mixture of nature and urban life stretching for miles and miles. The weather was nice and cool compared to Lexington, and the mass of cars in the airport parking lot awaited us. We met up with Mark, who would be leading us around to the various places on the trip, and Nikki, our photographer for the week and departed for our guesthouse.

Immediately, our group got to witness the poverty and crowdedness that characterize the cities of third-world countries. People were everywhere: walking in the streets, begging and trying to sell numerous goods, and crammed into blue and white vans that served as taxis for the city. Upscale buildings stood next to tiny tin shacks, and rudimentary slabs of concrete under construction littered the landscape before us. The traffic was organized chaos, as cars, trucks, and vans would come and go with not a stop sign or traffic light in sight. We arrived at the Addis Guesthouse, across from a field where tents of cloth, towels, and mud sprung up from the ground. We met two of the local guys that would be assisting us this week, Girma and Wario, who dropped our luggage off in our rooms, and we soon departed for our first visit.

As our driver navigated through the Addis traffic, Mark explained to us that the neighborhood we would visit is mainly occupied by widows and their children, and that we would be giving them bags of coffee and sugar and mattresses, complete with sheets and a blanket. We arrived outside a community center and made our way in through a metal gate with barbed wire, a common scene in Addis. What happened next absolutely floored me.  As soon as the widows and children saw us, they welcomed us with such warmth and love, peppering us with hugs and kisses. The joy evident on their faces was contagious. After a few hugs, I could not help but beam with joy simply being in their presence.

We hastily made our way into the community center where everyone sat in a circle and each member of our team was introduced to much applause. The women sang worship songs with clapping and rejoicing, and even though none of our group could understand what was being sung, it was a pretty neat experience. Several women then proceeded to share their testimony of how their sponsorship through the program that Mark is in charge of has completely changed their lives by giving them food to eat and providing for their children's healthcare and education. In everything these women thanked God for what they had, and it struck a chord with me: I complain about my phone being slow sometimes, yet these women are so thankful for the very little they have. Such incredible conviction.

Afterward, we handed out bags of coffee and sugar to these women, who thanked us profusely for them. We also managed to give out mattresses and sheets to the women who needed replacements.  We then got to spend time with one another, meeting each other and playing with the kids. One woman, Tonga, pulled me aside and continued to thank the group and me for coming to visit them and eagerly introduced me to her daughter. She kept telling me how we were such a blessing to them and how grateful she was for the things we handed out. Although it felt good to provide for these people's physical needs, I was humbled by her gratitude and thankful to her for how loving and gracious the hearts of the widows are. I got the joy of hanging out with some of these kids and seeing their faces light up when Montana handed out some chocolate.  

Two of these children I will remember forever: Biniyam, a 13-year-old boy, and Doriba, his 10-year-old sister. We bonded immediately and Haley and I got to carry their mattress back to their house. It was fantastic seeing these children who had nearly nothing, yet were so joyful and free of burdens. Walking through the neighborhood, we saw some houses that were pretty decent for their standards, but as we got closer we saw things for what they were. In the garages and backyards of these people, we saw widows and children in makeshift homes. Once we reached Biniyam's home, he invited us inside and showed us around. The house was no bigger than my bedroom at the guesthouse, yet they kept saying how big it was and were so proud of their belongings. These people are so thankful for the very little they have, and I was yet again floored at their attitude; we may have comfort in America, but the joy that these people have is a treasure very much worth looking for and guarding with your life.

We returned to the community center from Biniyam's house for a lunch of fried egg sandwiches and sodas, then left to go deliver laptops to some of Mark's friends and pick up supplies for his children. The area we were in, as Wario noted, is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Addis, yet it was not exactly middle-class America. Even something as subtle as being in a nice area of Addis rocked me. It was continued evidence that comfort and possessions do not equal joy, and possibly the absence of comfort and possessions (or the absence of finding your value in these things) contributes to the joy that people have.

Once we dropped off the laptops, we left to go exchange our American dollars for Ethiopian birr and we stopped by the "Starbucks of Ethiopia:" Kaldi's Coffee. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my coffee and I'm a big fan of the local coffee shops we have in Lexington, but nothing has come close to what I had today. The coffee is so rich that it doesn't need any creamer, sugar or anything fancy. These Ethiopians know their coffee! After the coffee shop, we returned to the guesthouse to eat dinner and retire for the night, exhausted after a long yet rewarding day in Addis Ababa.


In late July, nine student-athletes - Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) - participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

To start off, Bria Goss writes about the group's first day of travel and time in Washington, D.C.


By Bria Goss

This is the day we have all been waiting for. As excitement rises, so does nervousness. There are so many questions running through my mind as I make my final preparations for the trip. I am unsure what to expect when I get to Ethiopia, even though I have a pretty clear image.

The plan was to meet in the K Fund office to get lots of snacks from Coach Rock (Oliver) and double-check our bags to make sure we had everything. Today is Haley Mills' birthday so Katrina very generously gave her homemade brownies. Katrina and Haley had only met once or twice before that and Katrina already showed an act of kindness by giving her brownies. From that point on, I knew I had to make friends with Katrina to get some sweets on my birthday!!!

As 10:30 a.m. rolled around, it was time to load the bus and head to Cincinnati where we will depart for Washington, D.C.  I slept the whole ride to catch up on some much-needed rest. We arrived at the airport and check our bags. Everyone was so nice helping us along and pointing us to our next destination. We had a wonderful lunch in the airport and continued on our way. As we boarded the plane was when I first realized I was traveling to Ethiopia.


The plane ride was smooth and I slept the whole hour and a half. When we got to the Washington, D.C. Airport, we quickly grabbed our bags and headed to the hotel. After we dropped everything off in the rooms, we met in the lobby for our tour. Our tour guide, Zuma, was awesome. Not only did he make the tour interesting, he taught me a lot about D.C. Zuma took us everywhere: the Pentagon, Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Capitol, the White House and much more. He made the tour special and enjoyable.

After the tour was done, we went to dinner. This is where I really got the chance to talk with the other student-athletes. As the day went on, we became closer. After a great meal, we surprised Haley by telling the waiter it was her birthday. The staff of the restaurant came out singing happy birthday with a lot of energy. Haley was shocked! The look on her face was priceless.

After a night of many laughs, we loaded back up in our bus and headed for the hotel. We had a long day the next day so we wanted to get some rest. I am so excited to see what this trip has to offer. I am still so thankful for this amazing opportunity.



SECN_Logos_COXAdd.jpg Via ESPN Media Zone

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.
ESPN has reached a multi-year deal with Dari Nowkhah to host the SEC Network and its weeknight news and information show, SEC Now. The deal comes on the heels of Nowkhah's 10-year anniversary with ESPN, having established himself as one of college sports' most versatile hosts. The 24-hour network devoted to the Southeastern Conference and operated by ESPN will debut on August 14, 2014.

"You would be hard pressed to find a sportscaster with more passion than Dari Nowkhah has for covering a range of college sports," said ESPN's Stephanie Druley, vice president, production, college networks. "He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge that is needed for a network that will cover all of the conference's 21 sports."

Nowkhah began his career at ESPN on SportsCenter and has been the main anchor for ESPNU since 2011, hosting a spectrum of studio shows on the 24-hour college sports network. Most notable to SEC fans, he was the primary SEC Studio host for the syndicated college sports package (produced by ESPN Regional Television) for the last four years. He is well known across the country for his show CFB Daily on ESPNU and his radio show Dari & Mel co-hosted by NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper.

In addition to his leading role on SEC Now, Nowkhah will continue to contribute his college sports knowledge and expertise on the Dari & Mel show and other ESPN Radio opportunities throughout the year.

"The best thing about college sports is the passion of the fans, and top to bottom, there is no conference that matches the SEC in that category," said Nowkhah. "To be a part of the SEC Network and continue my role with ESPN Radio is the perfect situation for me."

SEC Now


SEC Now will debut on August 14, 2014 at 6 p.m. ET and air every Monday through Friday on the SEC Network. The weeknight airings will be televised from the SEC Network studio set in Charlotte. Set renderings (seen here) were revealed at SEC Spring Meetings.

SEC Now will be produced by Brad Buchanan under the direction of Coordinating Producer Pete Watters. Buchanan is an ESPN veteran working on SportsCenter and College GameDay and most recently producing College Football Live. Watters has more than 17 years' experience and will oversee studio programming for SEC Network.

Additional SEC Network studio talent and programming details will be released at a later date.

Release originally posted on ESPN Media Zone

Men's basketball's trip to the national championship game helped lead UK Athletics to a record Directors' Cup finish in 2013-14. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Men's basketball's trip to the national championship game helped lead UK Athletics to a record Directors' Cup finish in 2013-14. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
We have been together on this journey for 12 years now, and what a ride it's been. We have won national championships together and celebrated All-American performances. We have played in some of the best games the University of Kentucky has ever seen and had some of the best players to wear the Blue and White.

Today, we close the book on one of the most extraordinary seasons in UK Athletics history.

We received the news this morning that we came in 11th in the national all-sports standings, far and away our best finish in the 21-year history of the Directors' Cup. In doing so, we achieved our goal of becoming a top-15 athletics department a year ahead of the schedule set forth in our 15 by 15 by 15 Plan.

We did it with remarkable efforts across the program. Eighteen of our 22 teams contributed to our final point total, with seven finishing in the top 10 in their respective sports and 15 in the top 20. All those moments we'll remember for so long - Aaron Harrison shooting men's basketball to the national championship game, Kelsey Nunley pitching softball to the Women's College World Series and A.J. Reed proving himself the best baseball player in the country - made this happen.

Every step of the way, the Big Blue Nation has been there. On game day, you create the best home-court and home-field advantage in college sports. Outside of competition, we rely on you just the same. You might not be there for practices or workouts, but we call on your passion constantly.

We've needed that inspiration, because it's taken an incredible amount of work to reach this point. Our student-athletes, coaches and staff have embraced an ambitious set of goals and attacked it. In doing so, they have shown yet again how much a great group of people working together can accomplish on the field, all while excelling in the classroom and the community. I want to thank and congratulate them for all they have done in turning what seemed like a far-off goal in November 2008 into a reality.

Finishing in the top 15, of course, is an accomplishment worth celebrating, but our journey is far from over. We have moved into the same neighborhood as the best schools in the country, but we aren't content with that.

We want UK to be the best athletics department in America. Just as I challenged our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans to pursue a goal many thought impossible six years ago, I call on everyone involved with UK Athletics to seize the momentum we built in one of the best years we've ever had and turn it into something even better.

Many of our student-athletes are already on campus for strength and conditioning. Our coaches -- the best group I have been around in my three decades in college athletics -- are recruiting and honing their strategies for next season. Our staff is working hard to make sure our teams have all they need to compete for championships.

Before long, we'll open the 2014-15 season. Let's make it one to remember.

'Til the Battle Is Won,
Mitch Barnhart

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."

UK Athletics is one step closer to reaching Mitch Barnhart's goal of a top-15 Directors' Cup finish.

Adding in the points gained from solid finishes by the men's and women's track and field teams, UK moved up to No. 13 in the latest national all-sports standings, up from 16th just nine days ago. UK ranks third among Southeastern Conference teams, trailing only Florida (No. 2) and Texas A&M (No. 11).

Final Directors' Cup standings will be released on June 19 to include baseball. With UK's regional final trip, the Wildcats are likely to move up slightly and put the finishing touches on one of the best season's in program history and eclipse last year's record No. 25 finish.

In November 2008, Barnhart unveiled his 15 by 15 by 15 plan, challenging UK to finish in the top 15 of Directors' Cup standings, win 15 conference or national championships and achieve a 3.0 department-wide grade-point average by the year 2015. UK is on pace for that top-15 finish, is in the midst of a four-semester streak with GPAs of 3.0 or better and has won 11 conference or national championships.

Recent Comments

  • Helen Spalding: Congrats Makayla and team. We love you here in Marion County and just "proud as punch" of you and your read more
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  • David: 6-30 from the field (including a blown layup by Aaron in regulation) and 6-10 from the FT line (including 2 read more
  • Berdj Rassam: It should have been an easier win for UK - something to learn from for the future. read more
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