Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, UK Athletics operates as one of the only self-sufficient departments in the nation. Each day, we work to prove ourselves worthy of that support.
This year, we are proud of our efforts. We are on pace for the best Directors' Cup finish in school history - we rank 20th after the conclusion of the winter sports season - and our student-athletes have excelled in the classroom and the community as well.
But at the annual CATSPY Awards in April, Mitch Barnhart challenged everyone involved with UK Athletics to do more. He challenged student-athletes, coaches and staff to become the nation's best overall athletic department.
It is with that in mind that the K Fund introduces the "Big Blue Initiative."
From May 1 through June 30, the program - which is entirely philanthropic - will offer the opportunity to impact the lives of our student-athletes and Invest In Blue once more. Each dollar will go into our annual fund, which ensures the success of the student-athletes, providing everything from scholarships to athletic equipment to books to meals. We will be sending more information about the Big Blue Initiative to current donors in the coming days and weeks.
To join, donors need only increase their annual giving by 15 percent. If you gave $100 in 2012-13, we are asking that you give an additional $15 before June 30. If you gave $1,000 in 2012-13, that means an additional $150.
Beyond helping UK push toward our athletics director's bold vision, participants will receive the added benefit of a tax deduction and five bonus K Fund points on top of the regular three points per $100 donation.
To become the country's top athletic department, it will take tireless effort and determination on the part of our coaches, but it won't be possible at all without your support. Please consider taking this important step with us.
If you have any questions about the Big Blue Initiative, feel free to contact the K Fund at 859-257-6300 or visit KFundonline.com.
With competition in NCAA-sanctioned winter sports in the books, UK Athletics is on pace for the best Directors' Cup finish in school history. UK ranks 20th in the latest standings, one of the key metrics used by Mitch Barnhart to evaluate the program's progress in competition.
With spring sports still in action on the field, a historic 2012-13 is already secure for UK Athletics in the classroom.
UK's competing scholarship student-athletes combined for a cumulative grade-point average of 3.14 this spring, the highest for a single semester during Barnhart's tenure. The record academic semester comes on the heels of a fall semester during which competing scholarship student-athletes combined for a 3.030 GPA.
"When I established the goal of a 3.0 overall GPA for our department, I knew I was setting the bar high," Barnhart said. "To reach it for an entire athletic year for the first time is an accomplishment our student-athletes should be very proud of. I commend and thank them for their hard work."
***See below for complete grade information for each sport***
Sixteen of UK's 20 teams had GPAs of 3.0 or better, led by women's tennis at 3.69. Four teams joined women's tennis in posting GPAs higher than 3.5: women's soccer (3.62), women's swimming and diving (3.60), women's cross country (3.59) and women's golf (3.53). Leading the way for the Wildcat men's teams was men's basketball at 3.39.
"I am continually impressed by the way our student-athletes, coaches and staff embrace academics as an important part of our mission," Barnhart said. "We are identified first by what we do in competition, but we are out to prove an athletic department can excel in all facets."
The collective achievement this spring has been matched by numerous individual accomplishments as well, as 47 scholarship student-athletes earned a 4.0 this spring semester. In addition, 39 percent of scholarship athletes had GPAs of 3.5 or better and 70 percent were at 3.0 or better. UK also led all Southeastern Conference schools with 57 student-athletes on the league's Winter Sports Academic Honor Roll.
Not included in that group because her sport is not played in the winter is Chelsea Oswald (women's cross country/track), but she was named the SEC's H. Boyd McWhorter Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year in April. Megan Moir (women's golf) also was named the Brad Davis SEC Female Community Service Leader of the Year, marking the first time since 1999 UK student-athletes have won both prestigious conference awards.
Note: All GPAs listed above are for competing scholarship student-athletes only. GPAs including non-scholarship athletes are listed in the chart below.
The University of Kentucky celebrated its 146th May Commencement on Sunday. (photo by Mark Cornelison)
During the University of Kentucky's 146 May Commencement on Sunday, 49 UK student-athletes received degrees. Forty-seven earned undergraduate diplomas and two received graduate degrees.
(Note: Includes student-athletes who received degrees after their completing eligibility.)
Baseball Thomas McCarthy Zac Zellers (Will complete coursework this summer)
Football Aaron Boyd La'Rod King Quentin McCord Craig McIntosh Kevin Mitchell Matt Smith Taylor Wyndham (Note: 2012 seniors Mikie Benton, Gabe Correll, Gene McCaskill, Morgan Newton, Cartier Rice, Collins Ukwu, Steven Duff and Sam Simpson graduated previously.)
Gymnastics Caitlyn Ciokajlo Storey Morris Whitney Rose
Men's basketball Twany Beckham Marquis Estill Jon Hood Jarrod Polson (Graduated in three years) (Note: Jamal Mashburn also received an honorary doctorate of humanities.)
Men's golf Joseph Barr
Men's soccer Pedro Andreoni Gabriel Conelian Barry Rice
Men's swimming and diving Jon Bullock Jon Keltner Ben Russell
Rifle Heather Greathouse
Softball Chanda Bell Kara Dill (Graduate degree in exercise science) Alice O'Brien Erika Silence
Track and field Katy Achtien Keith Hayes Ben Mason (Will complete coursework this summer) Chelsea Oswald Shiara Robinson Josh Nadzam (Masters of social work) Danielle Sampley Rashaud Scott Samantha Stenzel Hiruni Wijayaratne Megan Wright
Volleyball No graduates this weekend, but seniors Ashley Frazier and Christine Hartmann had already graduated.
On Sunday, 49 current and former student-athletes participated in the University of Kentucky's 146th May Commencement. If you were on Twitter, you likely saw many photos of the graduates floating around, but I figured I would collect them all below. Take a look:
A view of Rupp Arena during graduation ceremonies. (photo by Mark Cornelison)
UK president Eli Capilouto addresses the crowd at Rupp Arena. (photo by Mark Cornelison)
Graduates Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood with John Calipari. (photo by Mark Cornelison)
Women's basketball graduate Crystal Riley with Matthew Mitchell, assistant coaches Danielle Santos (second from left) and Shalon Pillow (far right) and academic advisor Tiffany Hayden (far left). (photo posted by @ukhoopcats on Instagram)
Women's basketball graduate A'dia Mathies with academic advisor Tiffany Hayden (left) and assistant coach Shalon Pillow (right). (photo posted by @ukhoopcats on Instagram)
Baseball graduate Thomas McCarthy with academic advisor Michael Stone and John Calipari. (photo via @UKMichaelStone on Twitter)
Men's basketball graduate Twany Beckham with John Calipari (left) and academic advisor Michael Stone. (photo via @UKMichaelStone on Twitter)
John Calipari with UK graduates in the new Rupp Arena locker room. (photo via @UKCoachCalipari on Twitter)
Men's basketball great Jamal Mashburn received an honorary doctorate of humanities on Sunday. (photo via Kelley Bozeman)
Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood with John Calipari and academic advisor Michael Stone. (photo via @UKCoachCalipari on Twitter)
ATLANTA -- The Southeastern Conference and ESPN have signed a 20-year agreement through 2034 to create and operate a multiplatform network, which will launch in August 2014, it was announced today by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and ESPN President John Skipper. 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 approximately 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 studio shows, original content such as SEC Storied, spring football games, signing day and pro days coverage. Hundreds of additional live events from various sports will be offered exclusively on the digital platform. The network and its digital extensions will connect with each SEC institution and create opportunities for each school to produce and develop content.
"The SEC Network will provide an unparalleled fan experience of top quality SEC content presented across the television network and its accompanying digital platforms," stated Slive. "We will increase exposure of SEC athletics programs at all 14 member institutions, as we showcase the incredible student-athletes in our league. The agreement for a network streamlines and completes an overall media rights package that will continue the SEC's leadership for the foreseeable future."
Each weekend throughout the season, the new network will air multiple top-tier matchups from the strongest conference in college football. Since 2006, the SEC has claimed seven consecutive football national championships. In 2011-12, SEC teams won eight national championships: football (Alabama), men's basketball (Kentucky), gymnastics (Alabama), men's indoor track and field (Florida), women's tennis (Florida), women's golf (Alabama), men's outdoor track and field (Florida), and softball (Alabama). Since 1990, the SEC has won 149 national team championships for an average of more than six per year.
Skipper said, "The SEC is unmatched in its success on the field and its popularity with fans nationwide. The new network's top-quality SEC matchups across a range of sports will serve all sports enthusiasts including the most passionate, die-hard SEC fans. Also, it will serve the needs of our multichannel distributors and advertisers by providing extremely attractive programming options across all platforms."
As part of the agreement, ESPN will now oversee the SEC's official Corporate Sponsor Program. In addition, ESPN and the SEC also agreed to extend their existing media rights agreement through 2034. ESPN has televised the SEC since 1982. ESPN's existing networks present more than 1,600 hours of SEC action each year. The new network will focus exclusively on the SEC and add another outlet to deliver sports fans more SEC content than ever.
AT&T U-verse® has been secured as the network's first national distributor. AT&T U-verse is the fastest growing TV provider in the U.S. and their subscribers will have access to an unprecedented amount of SEC content across all platforms. Subscribers receiving the live linear network via a multichannel subscription will also have access to the network on PCs, tablets, smartphones and select gaming devices like Xbox. Additional games and coverage will be available through an authenticated digital offering. Fans looking to learn more about how to get the SEC Network can visit GetSECNetwork.com for more information.
"We are pleased to be involved with the SEC and ESPN at the very beginning of this great alliance," said Jeff Weber, President of Content and Advertising Sales, AT&T. "As the fastest growing and most advanced pay TV service, we want to bring our customers the highest value and most compelling product that we possibly can. Access to the SEC Network, across multiple platforms, will only increase the demand for U-verse."
ESPN's Justin Connolly, formerly senior vice president, ESPN affiliate sales and marketing, will oversee the network's day-to-day operations. The network will originate from ESPN's Charlotte, N.C., offices with additional staff located at the company's Bristol, Conn., headquarters. Staff announcements and additional details will be made in the coming months.
UK is 20th in Directors' Cup standings in the fifth season of Mitch Barnhart's 15 by 15 by 15 Plan. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
UK Athletics is on pace for its best-ever finish in the Directors' Cup.
Learfield Sports released updated Directors' Cup standings following the conclusion of winter sports and Kentucky checks in at No. 20. UK scored 343 of its 511 points in the winter thanks to contributions from rifle, women's basketball, gymnastics, swimming and diving and indoor track and field.
Kentucky is fourth in the standings among Southeastern Conference schools and leads all schools from the Bluegrass state. Louisville is a spot behind UK in 21st.
UK has steadily improved in Directors' Cup standings since Mitch Barnhart arrived as athletics director. UK was 29th in two of the last three seasons after coming in 50th in 2002-03, Barnhart's first. UK's best finish in the 20-year history of the Directors' Cup is 26th in 1996-97.
The Directors' Cup was established in 1993-94 by the National Association of Collegiate Director of Athletics and USA Today to rate the top athletic departments in the country, taking into account all NCAA-sanctioned sports.
Barnhart keeps a close watch on the rankings, including them in his 15 by 15 by 15 Plan. He set a goal nearly five years ago for UK to win 15 conference or national championships by the year 2015. After rifle's conference championship this winter, UK has won 11 titles.
With spring sports baseball, softball, outdoor track and field, men's and women's tennis and men's and women's golf still having opportunities to earn points, UK has a shot at cracking the top 15 in the Directors' Cup a couple years early.
Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart addresses student-athletes, coaches and staff at the 2013 CATSPY Awards. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mitch Barnhart spends a lot of time thinking about what he will say at the CATSPY Awards. After all, it was he who brought the annual celebration to UK Athletics and each year he serves as the keynote speaker before the student-athletes, coaches and staff assembled in Memorial Coliseum.
But this year, UK's athletics director had to do some last-minute scrambling. This year, Barnhart received some news that altered the message he wanted to send.
On Friday, Barnhart learned that former Oregon State linebacker Tevita Moala had lost his battle with cancer at age 37. Moala played college football more than a decade ago at a school thousands of miles from Lexington, which would seem to make his passing sad, but far removed from UK.
Barnhart sees things a different way.
"He's touched our program at UK and you would never know it," Barnhart said.
You see, Moala made a play during the 1999 season and its effects are still being felt today. On Nov. 6 against California, he snatched up a fumbled snap and sprinted 24 yards for a touchdown, clinching a 17-7 win and Oregon State's first winning season in 29 seasons and first bowl berth in 34. The next year, Oregon State would play in the Rose Bowl.
"He had an electric smile and an incredible passion for the game," Barnhart said. "Had he not made that play, Oregon State does not build its program, allowing us to do things we'd never done before at that university and affording me the opportunity to come to Kentucky with many others in this room, coaches and staff."
Barnhart would have been touched by the death of a young man he came to know regardless, but it was the symmetry between Moala's memorable play and the CATSPYs that made him change his speech at the 11th hour.
"Tonight, we're celebrating moments like that and trying to figure out how we can create more," Barnhart said.
It's that duality that makes the CATSPYs unique.
The event draws inspiration from the ESPYs and entertainment award shows like the Grammys, Oscars and Emmys. But those others are all about recognizing achievement from the preceding year, while the CATSPYs are as much about inspiring future achievement.
That's why motivating addresses from women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell, volleyball coach Craig Skinner and gymnastics coach Tim Garrison were interspersed with emotional award presentations by women's soccer head coach Jon Lipsitz to star sophomore Arin Gilliland (Blue Heart Award) and Joe B. Hall to long-time athletic trainer Walt McCombs (Lifetime Achievement Award).
That's why Barnhart took to the podium before the night's most prestigious individual awards - Mr. and Miss Wildcat - were given to Luis Orta and Chelsea Oswald of UK cross country and track and field.
Barnhart touched on a few themes, including leadership, tough love, sacrifice, emotion, training, passion and legacy, but he closed with a word that didn't seem on its face to fit with the rest: almost. His message was that almost is not good enough.
When he came to UK from Oregon State in 2002 with memories of Tevita Moala fresh in his mind, almost would have been a significant improvement for many of the school's 22 varsity sports. Since then, UK Athletics has made remarkable strides, winning national championships and positioning itself for a record finish in Directors Cup standings in 2012-13. That merits recognition, and that's why Barnhart believes the CATSPYs are so important.
But the days of setting improvement as the goal are gone. UK Athletics is aiming much, much higher.
"We've done a lot of great things in the last year and over the last decade," Barnhart said. "That's now just the foundation. We're on a new journey and much more is expected."