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.
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 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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
UK is down two spots from 14th when final winter standings were released, but is soon to get a boost from remaining spring sports.
Standings will next be tabulated on June 10 to include softball and men's golf with men's and women's track and field set to be factored in on June 19 and baseball on June 26 or 27. Men's golf posted its best finish (18th) since 2006 earlier this week, while softball is one of eight teams competing in the Women's College World Series. Baseball will play for its first-ever Super Regional bid this weekend, while the UK track and field team -- women ranked fifth, men 19th -- is in Jacksonville, Fla., for the NCAA East Preliminary Championships.
Whether UK reaches Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart's goal of a top-15 finish remains to be seen, but an all-time record performance is all but assured at this point. UK was 25th in last year's final Directors' Cup standings, the school's best finish in the 20-year history of the national all-sports standings.
The University of Kentucky Athletics Department has obviously enjoyed one of its best seasons in history across all sports. Recent news has confirmed that the Wildcats are also enjoying tremendous success in the classroom.
At the heart of that success has been UK's innovative and nationally renowned Center for Academic and Tutorial Services.
One staff member at CATS has recently raked in a number of prestigious honors for his hard work, and the Wildcats' subsequent academic success.
The awards have gone to someone staff members across the UK Athletics Department couldn't consider more deserving.
With the renown, the praise for Mike Pirrman has now extended beyond UK to multiple academic advising professional organizations.
"Mike Pirrman is an incredibly caring person who puts the well-being of the student-athletes he advises above all else," Associate Athletics Director for Student Services Bob Bradley said. "Mike realizes that someday their athletic exploits will come to an end and that the quality of their educational experience will be of utmost importance to their future success. He takes their post-college quality of life very serious."
Pirrman, who serves as academic advisor for six teams within the cross country/track and field program, was honored earlier this semester as the recipient of the 20th annual University of Kentucky Ken Freedman Outstanding Professional Advisor Award.
The award recognizes outstanding service in the field of academic advising.
In addition, Pirrman was awarded the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) Region 3 Excellence in Advising Award.
His accolades did not extend to just regional and state honors; he received a Certificate of Merit from the national division of NACADA.
The awards come as recognition for the hard work Pirrman has put in, which extends far beyond normal 9-5 hours. Such commitments come with the territory of advising college students, but still his efforts -- which go above and beyond those expected of an everyday professional -- have not go unnoticed by UK track and field and cross country head coach Edrick Floreal.
Floreal is known as a demanding coach when it comes to athletes' training, but his high standards also extend to the classroom. Thus he brings Pirrman on many of the team's road trips, which often occur at key points during the academic year.
Pirrman holds study halls in team hotels throughout those trips, sacrificing many a weekend during the year on behalf of the student-athletes he advises.
That sacrifice of possible personal time, and the positive results that time has had on many multiple Wildcats it not lost on Floreal.
But the influence of Pirrman's time and effort on the well-being of UK student-athletes are just beginning to be adequately documented.
"Mike's impact on the teams are supported by numbers that stand on their own," Floreal said. "Just look at the women's cross country team's perfect 1000 score in Academic Progress Rate. The women's indoor and outdoor track and field, and men's cross country all exceeded the national average in terms of APR. Also our women's cross country team's GPA was 3.667 GPA, which helped the entire athletic department to its best academic semester since 2002-03.
"His commitment to our team, student athletes and staff is always evident in the numbers that reach far beyond our student-athletes' four years at UK. It is something they will carry for a lifetime."
Other examples Pirrman's commitments are reflected in academic successes by the likes Chelsea Oswald.
Oswald graduated with a 4.0 GPA and was awarded the 2012-13 Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award as the Southeastern Conference's top student-athlete achieving success in the classroom and in competition. Oswald won the SEC 5,000 and 10,000-meter Championships in the 2012-13 year, also claiming three All-America honors.
"I've been given a great opportunity here at UK and I've just tried my hardest every day to make the most of it," Oswald said upon receiving the McWhorter award. "This award recognizes not only my achievements, but also all the great people, like Mike Pirrman, who have helped me along the way."
Luis Orta, meanwhile, was selected to give the commencement address at the University's 2012 December Graduation Ceremony. The Caracas, Venezuela native graduated with a dual degree in international studies and Hispanic studies.
Orta's journey to graduation was one of the greatest testaments to Pirrman's role in guiding student-athletes from enrollment to graduation.
In his first semester at UK, Orta successfully navigated a full
course load even though he was only just learning English. Along the way, he broke three freshman records in competition. During his four years, Orta developed academically, so much so that he was the commencement speaker.
At graduation as well as during an acceptance speech for the "Mr. Wildcat" award at the 2013 CATSPY Awards, Orta expressed his gratitude for the guidance Pirrman had provided, and in fluent English to boot.
"Last year I got this award and I forgot to mention Mike Pirrman," Orta said in 2013. "I have to thank him so much. Four years ago, I had the great fortune to come to this country and pursue my dreams. It's thanks to him and my teammates that I was able to get through my first year even though I didn't speak English. I ended up graduating with honors and a double SEC Champion, and it's just been a blessing."
In the midst of a record-setting athletic season, Wildcat student-athletes combined for their best academic semester since 2002-03, the first year for which complete grade information is available.
Continuing to raise the bar in the classroom, scholarship Wildcats combined for a remarkable 3.218 cumulative grade-point average for the spring semester. UK Athletics has now posted GPAs of at least 3.0 in four consecutive semesters.
"We have great expectations for our student-athletes, but to get to this spot is special," Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. "I know how hard our kids work every day and I'm so proud to see it pay off like this. This semester is proof of the commitment they have made in the classroom." **SEE BELOW FOR COMPLETE GRADE INFORMATION BY SPORT**
Of UK's 20 teams, 18 posted GPAs of better than 3.0. The women's swimming and diving team led the way with a 3.728 GPA, closely followed by women's cross country (3.667), softball (3.599), women's tennis (3.546) and rifle (3.517). Men's tennis (3.401) led all UK men's teams.
Women's swimming and diving, softball and men's and women's tennis were among 13 teams to attain 3.0 GPAs while also competing in the championship portions of their schedule. Included in that group was the men's basketball team, which posted a 3.050 cumulative scholarship student-athlete GPA -- 3.111 including non-scholarship players -- and reached the national championship game in April.
"Balancing schoolwork and competition is not easy," Barnhart said. "Excelling in both is an incredible achievement and the fact that some of our top performers on the field are some of our best students is really special."
In total, 325 Wildcats -- scholarship and non-scholarship -- earned GPAs of 3.0 or better, accounting for more than 60 percent of UK's student-athlete population of 508. Seventy-one of those student-athletes had perfect 4.0 GPAs this spring.
"Our student-athletes get the work done, but our coaches and the staff at CATS (Center for Academic and Tutorial Services) are important pieces of the puzzle," Barnhart said. "I want to thank them for everything they do."
With the streak of four straight semesters of GPAs of 3.0 or better, the Wildcats continue to make progress toward the goals set forth in Barnhart's 15 by 15 by 15 Plan. UK ranks No. 14 in the latest national all-sports standings, on pace for the best finish in the 20-year history of the Directors' Cup, and has 11 conference or national championships since November of 2008.
When we launched BBN First, we knew your feedback was going to play an important role as we committed to putting you, the fans, first in all we do. I don't think we knew exactly how important it would be until your suggestions started rolling in.
Three weeks after I introduced BBN First and asked for your help, you have responded in a way only Kentucky fans could. We have received hundreds of emails and comments on our new website and they keep coming.
The volume of feedback is one thing, but the quality has been another entirely. Almost without exception, your suggestions have been constructive. You have told us some things that are hard to hear, but you want to help us get better. I appreciate your thoughtful feedback immensely.
To fill you in on how we are handling your feedback, members of my staff are reading and responding to everything and keeping me updated along the way. If you have sent in a suggestion and haven't heard back yet, you will. Once we read an email, we categorize and sort it for discussion in our Fan Experience Committee meetings. Already, you have helped us identify important trends.
A few things stick out to me about what we've heard so far.
First of all, your pride in this university is incredible. The sense of ownership you take in all of our programs is one of the most special things I've witnessed in my three decades working in college athletics.
But even more importantly to BBN First, your feedback has given us insight into what matters to you and what we can do better. Some of the topics we are hearing most about are music selections; parking, traffic and tailgating; and concessions. We expected that, but some of the specific feedback we have gotten has changed our perspective.
To give you just one of many examples, we already knew fans want better food with more variety at our venues. What we didn't realize until we began this process was how many of you want more local Kentucky flavor at our concessions stands.
You are giving us so much valuable information, but it's on us to turn that into action. We are hard at work reviewing your feedback, prioritizing and planning our next steps. In the coming weeks and months, we will communicate details to you. We have some cool stuff in the works.