On Sunday, Kentucky cheerleading returned the Universal Cheerleader Association Championship to where it has spent most of the last 28 years.
For a record 19th time, the Wildcats won the UCA national title at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. UK finished ahead of second-place Alabama, who ended a streak of three consecutive Kentucky titles in 2011.
The championship is UK's fourth in five years and seventh in nine. UK has failed to win the national championship just three times since 1995 and has reclaimed the title in the following year each time.
The Kentucky dance team also participated in the final round of national competition this weekend. Coach Dawn Duncan Walters and the Wildcats brought home a sixth-place finish in the Pom category and eighth place in Hip Hop.
Congratulations to both the cheerleading and dance teams!
Between volleyball's trip to the Sweet 16, the return of women's soccer to the NCAA Tournament and both basketball programs earning top-10 rankings nationally, it was a banner fall for University of Kentucky athletics.
However, the field of play wasn't the only place where UK excelled in the first semester of the 2011-12 academic year.
The Wildcats were truly student-athletes this fall, as Kentucky's 20 Division I teams combined for a mean team grade point average of 3.086 among student-athletes on scholarship. The average scholarship student-athlete GPA for the fall was 2.979, just short of UK's goal of a 3.0 GPA across the department.
"We had more than 50 kids with a perfect 4.0 grade point average and we almost got to the 3.0 as a department so I'm pleased with our effort," Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said. "We came dangerously close again and we want to get past that. I thought everybody gave great effort. I thought the kids showed improvement and have clearly taken interest in their academics."
Of those 20 teams, 15 posted a GPA of 3.0 or better. Leading UK were 36 scholarship athletes and 56 total student-athletes with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Moreover, 185 scholarship athletes and 243 total student-athletes earned a 3.0 or better. ***See below for complete grade information for each sport***
Conventional knowledge about college sports says that success in athletic competition comes at the cost of academic performance, but that's something Barnhart and the UK administration are unwilling to accept.
"We want to put to bed the myth that you can't do both, that you can't be in athletics and do well academically because you can't focus on both," Barnhart said.
In talking to UK student-athletes and coaches about the state of the program, the word "community" is nearly inevitable. The Wildcats do not exist on an island separated from other athletic teams or the university as a whole, and a commitment in the classroom is a key component in that sense of community.
"We talk about the pillars of our program and clearly education is a big piece of that," Barnhart said. "Our job is to prepare them to compete well and have an opportunity to walk out and be a viable member of society. They cannot do that without their degrees."
To succeed in the classroom, UK student-athletes rely on the guidance of the Center for Academic and Tutorial Services (CATS). From the moment each student-athlete arrives on campus, CATS advisers are a key component of the academic experience.
CATS takes an active role in the academic success of UK student-athletes, but without coaches delivering the message of the importance of excelling in the classroom, this fall's high GPA would not have happened.
"The wonderful thing about what we have is that our coaches are committed personally to education," Barnhart said. "Having coaches that buy into it and believe in it and make the commitment to make sure student-athletes are performing off the field makes it possible."
While fall 2011 gives reason to pause and celebrate what the Wildcats have done both on the field and in the classroom, it's not an endpoint. Barnhart has his sights set on the elusive goal of a 3.0 GPA across the department as a whole for the entire school year, but his aspirations don't end there.
"Having an entire department, all our athletes above 3.0 at the University of Kentucky would be a great thing," Barnhart said. "That doesn't mean that's the ceiling."
If you haven't noticed already, it's going to be pretty quiet here on Cat Scratches around Christmastime, but I did want to wish you happy holidays from everyone at UK Athletics.
On Christmas Day, John Calipari and the men's basketball team will have a special surprise for the Big Blue Nation that I think you all will enjoy. Stay tuned for that and, in the meantime, have a Merry Christmas!
Mark Coyle becomes the new athletics director at Boise State University after six years under Mitch Barnhart at Kentucky. (UK Athletics)
It is said the best leaders help lift up and inspire those around them to greater achievements. In that vein, Mitch Barnhart is sending a protege west to fulfill his dream for the second time in 18 months.
On Thursday, Kentucky deputy director of athletics Mark Coyle accepted an offer to become the new athletics director at Boise State University. In July of 2010, Coyle succeeded Rob Mullens, who left Kentucky to become the athletics director at the University of Oregon.
"I'm incredibly excited for Mark and his family," Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart said. "Mark has been a great asset to the University of Kentucky over the last seven years and I'm happy that he's getting this opportunity. The work he's done in terms of facilities and donor relationships has been tremendous. Boise State made a great choice and he'll be missed by the Wildcat family. Mark is ready and capable to lead a Division I program. We wish him, Krystan, Grace, Nicholas and Benjamin nothing but the best."
Coyle played a key role in the functions of UK's athletic department, assisting Barnhart in its overall direction. He also oversaw the day-to-day activities of Kentucky's tradition-rich basketball program.
Before stepping into his role as deputy director of athletics, Coyle served as the senior associate athletics director for external affairs, directing the marketing, fundraising licensing and ticket units of the department.
Coyle joins Mullens and Scott Stricklin as understudies of Barnhart to move on to athletics director jobs. Stricklin is currently in that role at Mississippi State University after serving as associate athletics director for media relations.
Coyle arrived in Lexington in 2005 from the University of Minnesota, recognizing what Barnhart was building at UK.
He graduated from Drake University in 1991, where he was a three-year letterman as a wide receiver on the football team. He subsequently earned graduate degrees from Drake and Florida State University.
Coyle will move to Boise, Idaho with his wife and three children.
Today's victory reinforces the belief of Dr. Capilouto and I that Head Coach Joker Phillips continues to be the right fit to lead our football program. Although this season certainly fell short of our expectations, today we celebrate a victory that has eluded this program for 26 seasons. Congratulations to Coach Phillips and our football team.
As I do after each season, I will follow up on our regular, in-season conversations with a more formal and thorough review of all aspects of our football program and address any needs after that meeting with Coach Phillips.
Bowl games and a climb up the rigorous SEC ladder continue to be my expectation and markers of our program's progress. I remain confident in Coach Phillips, his continued ability to find and develop young talent and his plan to return Kentucky football to post-season play.
The Big Blue Nation has been very supportive of our football program as we strive to reach our goal of championship football in Lexington. Coach Phillips helped turn our offense around to what our expectation level is today and I'm confident he will do it again. Only with your continued support can we reach our dreams of celebrating our accomplishments together.
On Sunday morning, the Southeastern Conference announced the University of Missouri would become the conference's 14th member institution. The move is effective on July 1, 2012, meaning the Missouri Tigers will begin competition in all sports beginning with the 2012-13 academic year.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (November 6, 2011) - The Southeastern Conference Presidents and Chancellors, acting unanimously, announced today that the University of Missouri will join the Southeastern Conference effective July 1, 2012, with competition to begin in all sports for the 2012-13 academic year.
The addition of Missouri will increase SEC membership to 14 institutions. The additions of Texas A&M, announced on September 25, 2011, and Missouri, are the first expansions for the SEC since September of 1991 when the University of South Carolina joined the league. The University of Arkansas joined the SEC in August of 1991. With the addition of Arkansas and South Carolina, the SEC was the first conference to split into divisions and add a conference championship game in 1992.
"The Presidents and Chancellors of the Southeastern Conference are pleased to welcome the University of Missouri to the SEC," said Dr. Bernie Machen, President of the SEC Presidents and Chancellors and president of the University of Florida. "The University of Missouri is a prestigious academic institution with a strong athletic tradition and a culture similar to our current institutions."
"The Southeastern Conference is a highly successful, stable, premier athletic conference that offers exciting opportunities for the University of Missouri," said Chancellor Brady J. Deaton. "In joining the SEC, MU partners with universities distinguished for their academic programs and their emphasis on student success. The SEC will provide our student-athletes with top flight competition and unparalleled visibility. We came to this decision after careful consideration of the long term best interests of our university. We believe the Southeastern Conference is an outstanding home for the Mizzou Tigers, and we take great pride in our association with this distinguished league."
Missouri, located in Columbia, will also be the fourth institution in the Southeastern Conference to hold membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities, joining University of Florida, Texas A&M University and Vanderbilt University. Missouri has an enrollment of 33,800 students, which would be the fourth largest institution in the SEC, with Florida, Georgia and Texas A&M having a larger student body. There are more than 260,000 "Mizzou" alumni around the world. The State of Missouri borders three SEC states: Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas, and they bring an existing rivalry with former conference foe Texas A&M.
Missouri athletic teams have excelled recently. Its men's basketball team has made it to the NCAA Tournament three straight seasons and 24 times overall. The Tiger football team has been to post-season bowl games for six straight years and 28 times overall. The softball team has participated in the College World Series each of the last three seasons. The Tigers have won Big 12 Championships in men's basketball, soccer and softball.
"I am pleased to officially welcome the University of Missouri to the SEC family on behalf of our presidents, chancellors, athletics directors, students and fans," said SEC Commissioner Mike Slive. "Missouri is an outstanding academic institution with a strong athletic program. We look forward to having the Tigers compete in our league starting in 2012."
The Tigers sponsor 20 varsity sports. Men's sports include baseball, basketball, football, golf, swimming and diving, wrestling, indoor and outdoor track and field and cross country. Women's sports include basketball, golf, gymnastics, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field and cross country and volleyball. Missouri participates in every sport sponsored by the SEC except men's tennis and the SEC sponsors every sport the Tigers participate in except wrestling.
In a piece of legislation that will take effect starting in the 2012-13 school year, the APR benchmark for all teams moves from 900 to 930. The implementation will be phased, with teams needing to maintain a 900 multi-year APR or a 930 average for the most recent two-year period to maintain eligibility for postseason play. In 2014-15, teams must achieve a 930 benchmark for their four-year APR or a 930 average in the most recent two years to be eligible for the postseason. In 2015-16, the new benchmark of 930 will be fully implemented and the "APR requirement for postseason play will be waived only in extraordinary circumstances."
Along with the new guidelines for maintaining postseason eligibility, a new three-tier penalty structure has been enacted. Level one limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week, with the four hours lost "to be replaced with academic activities." Teams being penalized at the second level will also be subject to reduced competition, "either in the traditional or nontraditional season." The third level allows for a "menu of penalty options", ranging from coaching suspensions to scholarship reduction to restricted NCAA membership.
Clearly, the NCAA is calling on its members to take academics seriously and these new requirements and penalty structure are proof.
Stricter academic standards for incoming high school and transfer students
Students enrolling in Division I schools from either high school or two-year colleges will face higher standards for eligibility beginning in August 2015. The following changes apply to high school applicants:
Student-athletes with a minimum core-course GPA of 2.0 will still be eligible to receive athletically related financial aid and practice and will be able to earn a second term of enrollment by passing nine semester or eight quarter hours.
The standard for immediate access to competition will be raised to a GPA of 2.3 and an increased sliding scale legislating required test scores.
Student-athletes who reach a GPA of 2.0 but fall short of 2.3 would essentially be subject to a so-called "academic redshirt year."
Also, in response to data that show the struggles of transfer students from two-year institutions, the Board increased the mandated minimum grade-point average of incoming students from such schools from 2.0 to 2.5 with additional rules on courses those students must take in order to gain eligibility.
Walter Harrison, the president of the University of Hartford and the Division I Committee on Academic Performance chair explained the new rules.
"We're trying to balance being tough with being fair," Harrison said. "These are noticeably higher standards than in the past, but we recognize we need some time to change behavior."
Additional athletics aid to address the "miscellaneous costs of attending college"
Colleges will now have the option of offering up to $2,000 or the full cost of attendance to student-athletes who receive full athletic scholarships or get other school financial aid. The rule applies to "head-count sports" like basketball and football, as well as equivalency sports who award the value of a full scholarship.
The Board also approved multi-year scholarships for use at the discretion of the member colleges, with one-year scholarships remaining the minimum. Institutions are now also allowed to provide financial aid to former student-athletes who remain at or return to school to complete their degrees.
Contact rules for men's basketball recruiting
Many of the restrictions placed on college basketball coaches regarding where, when, how and how often they contact recruits have been eased. Coaches will now be able to send unlimited text messages and make unlimited phone calls to recruits beginning on June 15 of the player's sophomore year. Social networking restrictions have also been eased. The new structure also provides for two additional recruiting periods in April and cuts the summer period to three four-day periods in July.
The following changes were also instituted along with this ruling:
A start date for official visits beginning January 1 of the junior year, with schools able to pay travel expenses for the prospect and a parent/guardian.
Permitting some contact at a prospect's educational institution during the junior year in conjunction with an evaluation, with some restrictions and requirements.
The July period will be limited to three four-day periods beginning Wednesday at 5 p.m. and ending Sunday at 5 p.m.
The April period will be limited to certified events that begin after 6 p.m. on Friday and end before 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Permitting staged, on-campus evaluations in conjunction with official visits, though further details will be considered.