For the better part of the last however many years, Kentucky’s football team has been fought a battle to break away from bottom feeder status in the SEC just as adamantly as many of the fanbase has implored them to increase their commitment to the school’s second-biggest team. When Joker Phillips was hired to succeed Rich Brooks, he took over a program that was caught in a pivotal point in the program’s history. With a real opportunity to creep into the top half of the SEC, Joker seemed ready to take the next step and promised that “Operation: Win”, along with a revamped staff with a commitment and focused on recruiting, would do so.
But, will they have the proper tools?
As Matt mentioned on the radio show this morning, the picture above was sent to us by a reader of the “room” that prospective Kentucky football players are taken to for some food and some highlights of all of UK’s glory years. This “room” is a corner of the Nutter Fieldhouse, touted by UK as “an $8.5 million climate-controlled facility used for winter conditioning and indoor track and field meets”. To a prospective recruit, you’d have to believe that the fine fold-up tables and chairs nestled between a projector screen and a track give off another vibe. This is an $8.5 million version of the AWANA meetings at your local YMCA. “Thanks for stopping by, out of state recruit. Make sure you stick around for David Turner’s chicken ‘n dumplings and Steve Ortmayer’s seven layer surprise!”
For comparison’s sake, here’s what the Florida Gator recruiting room looks like. And here is what Tennessee is building. And Arkansas. Kentucky? Well, it doesn’t seem like much of anything is in the works. When IMG put together their proposal, it was centered around Rupp and Commonwealth Stadium. When the deal fell through, Mitch Barnhart said that the school was moving forward on private plans for Commonwealth and the baseball facilities. It seems that an upgraded football facility (not stadium) is not in any of the plans and, the assumption is, it’s because the demand internally is not matched by the desire to contribute externally.
There’s no question that UK basketball will always be the biggest name in town, but there’s a substantial desire among the UK fan contingent to be a team that can compete for SEC titles. There are a number of factors that work against the Cats in that regard, no question. But, it’s hard to overcome those other issues when you’re handicapping yourself at home. Over the past half-decade, UK has helped inch toward escaping the permanent bottom-feeder status and, to their credit have new meeting rooms and invested in the Tim Couch Practice Fields. But, it’s hard to think they could continue to compete at the level they want without dealing themselves a hand that’s even reasonably close to what everyone else is holding.