Today’s interview with David Williams on KSR was a good learning experience for me. I learned that good politicians (of which he is one) are (a) good at answering the question they want, rather than necessarily the one you asked and (b) don’t love the confrontational style that we like on KSR. With that said, Senator Williams was interesting to speak with and offered to come back at any time on the show. He is a somewhat gruff guy that isn’t quite “warm and fuzzy”, but while we don’t agree on this (or likely much else), I always appreciate anyone willing to actually debate their position with one who disagrees. The only time he really seemed to get upset at me was when I suggested his position was liberal (government oversight on spending projects even if the market would allow them) and mine conservative (allowing the Universities to get funding if the market deems the project repayable). While I dont mind being called a liberal, Senator Williams is not quite as fond of the term. Nevertheless, he said he enjoyed talking about these issues and even laughed at the back and forth saying, “this is just how you and I talk to each other.” In the course of the conversation, I thought he touched on some important points, although he didn’t truly answer my question as to the justification for Kentucky remaining the only state in the SEC to not allow their major Universities to initiate bonding projects on their own. He also noted that in his 10 years as Senate President, he and Mitch Barnhart have never had a conversation, a fact that while understandable (those conversations likely go through the UK President), probably should be changed.
However, Williams did make one very important point. Williams said unequivocally that he would support a Commonwealth Stadium renovation that was given with dedicated revenue (which virtually any such renovation project could easily have), if it was apart from the other academic UK requests. This is an important step for Commonwealth Stadium renovation possibilities. While Williams has never said he was against such a request, he has also never said he was for one either. Many I have talked to behind the scenes in UK athletics, including former members of the UK Athletic Board, did not think Williams supported such requests. Now that he has said publicly he does, the makeup for such proposals can change. Williams is clear that a Commonwealth Stadium proposal detached from other University projects (where the dedicated revenue is more indirect) will have his support. This is a HUGE hurdle.
So now the ball moves into another court. For a major Commonwealth Stadium renovation to take place, it now must be supported by UK President Eli Capilouto. In the last budget, a Commonwealth Stadium renovation was included, but was tied to academic projects without dedicated revenue. Williams was clear that he would not support such a request. But with UK Athletics able to create a Commonwealth Stadium project with its own dedicated revenue, it is now up to Capiluoto to allow it to happen. There are other projects on campus that need funding, but presumably Williams’ statement today suggests that an approval of a Commonwealth Stadium project set alone, would not have a negative impact on the UK academic projects. To put it another way, if a pool of bond approval exists for UK renovations, Williams’ comments suggest that the Commonwealth Stadium project could be approved without affecting that pool. That means it is up to Capilouto to approve such an individual request.
The question is, will he? The reality is that UK likes to bundle athletic projects (which have wide support) with academic renovations where dedicated revenue isn’t as clear. Some believe that the President and Board of Trustees do not want the athletic requests separate, as the support for them in the legislature drags along other academic requests. If this is true, President Capilouto may not allow an individual Commonwealth Stadium request, EVEN THOUGH it can (a) easily be approved and (b) easily paid for with directed revenue. Barnhart will not likely come out publicly and put the onus on his boss in this way, but the reality is this is where the next step lies.
Even if you believe (as I do), that David Williams and the Kentucky Senate should allow UK to do its bonding on its own, it was clear by his statements today that it won’t happen as long as the Kentucky Senate leadership is in its current state. With that road closed (at least until a change in the leadership’s position or a change in the leadership), that means that the future of any Commonwealth Stadium renovation lies with the UK President. IF he allows it to be an individual request apart from his academic requests, it will be approved. If not, the future does not look as bright. All eyes on Eli.