Mitch Barnhart reflected back on 2014 in a letter to Big Blue Nation earlier this week. You can read that one here. Today he wrote a second letter to fans, looking forward to the year ahead:
Now that I’ve reflected briefly on 2014 in UK Athletics, it’s time to look at what our future holds for us in 2015. We have a great deal to look forward to.
In competition, this spring can be one of our best ever if our student-athletes and coaches work as I know they will and you, our fans, give us the kind of support you always do. We enter the New Year 26th in the latest Directors’ Cup standings, which puts ahead of last year’s record-setting pace heading into the spring semester.
Our men’s and women’s basketball teams have already shown they are capable of competing for championships this season and the same goes for our rifle team. I’m also eager to see what Rachel Lawson and our softball team do for an encore after last year’s Women’s College World Series trip. That postseason run was one of the most special I’ve been a part of. Our track and field team had an outstanding 2014 as well, including the best outdoor finish ever for our women’s team. I believe even better things are in store for Edrick Floreal’s program in his third season.
We also have a number of ascendant programs ready to take next steps, including Tim Garrison’s gymnastics team, Carlos Drada’s women’s tennis team, Lars Jorgensen’s swimming and diving team and our golf teams led by Brian Craig and Golda Borst. Our baseball and men’s tennis teams will both have to replace some of the best players in school history, but I know Gary Henderson and Cedric Kauffmann will help create some great moments once again.
This spring is also an important one for our football program. While Mark Stoops and his staff put the finishing touches on another strong recruiting class and get ready for spring practice, construction crews are working hard to prepare The New CWS for our season opener on Sept. 5. The stadium changes every week and I can’t tell you how excited I am to show off our new home. With the renovation in progress and the plans we have for our new practice facility, we are taking great steps toward competing at the highest level in our conference as we all want to do.
With the new stadium opening and the momentum our staff and players have created, we know the next year is crucial. What we ask is that you keep an eye on your mail for information about season tickets if you’ve already ordered or reserve season tickets now if you haven’t. We’re going to need you on game day in the fall.
On top of the stadium construction, we are working as a department to take our game on game day to the next level. As part of our BBN First initiative, we continue to engage with the Disney Institute to take lessons from one of the world’s leaders in customer service and apply them to what we do. Our first step has been to take a close look at our internal culture and we are already gaining valuable insight into what we can do better.
BBN First, in large part, came about as a result of us realizing as a department that the way fans enjoy sports is different than it ever has been before, but the landscape of college athletics is changing in more ways than just that. After more than 30 years in the field, I can tell you things have never been more competitive. Budgets continue to rise, and we have made strides toward positioning ourselves to remain self-sufficient with our new agreements with JMI Sports for multimedia rights and Fermata for licensing. The growth of the SEC Network — which you have helped make a great success in its first months — will also be important as we move forward, but we must continue to be innovative and stay ahead of the curve so that we can fulfill our primary mission.
That mission, of course, is to serve our student-athletes and help them to pursue their dreams.
It is with that mission in mind that I undertake my role on the NCAA Division I Council. It is an honor to serve and I will do so eagerly, but this is also a responsibility I do not take lightly. The world of college athletics is facing tremendous challenges. The changes we make in response to those challenges will drastically affect our student-athletes and the games they play for decades to come. Our work begins in earnest this month and we have a lot to do.
2015 will be full of opportunities. We know a lot must be done to capitalize on them, but with you behind us we know we can do it. There’s never been a better time to be a Kentucky Wildcat.
‘Til the Battle is Won,