Compared to most schools across the country, UK Athletics has done a relatively good job navigating the pandemic thus far. Kentucky was one of only two schools in the Southeastern Conference to make it through the 11-week football season without a COVID delay. On the basketball side, only one men’s basketball game has been postponed, and that was due to positive cases on the other side. Today, athletics director Mitch Barnhart opened up about the challenges the department has faced, and thanked everyone involved for keeping things rolling to this point.
“Without the medical advice of [UK Executive Associate Athletic Director of Sports] Jim Madaleno and our crew I don’t know how we would have made it through any of this and I don’t think we would have been able to continue without his expertise on that medical task force. I give [SEC Commissioner] Greg Sankey a ton of credit. He helped our athletic directors and our medical task force and our presidents find a pathway for our young people to compete in the sports. And we’ve heard it over and over again, young people want to play. They want to play the game that they love, whether that is football, women’s basketball, swimming and diving. They all want to get and they want to compete. That’s what they want to do.”
Barnhart insisted that all of Kentucky’s teams have adhered to the protocols and guidelines and echoed John Calipari’s remarks from last week in saying that campus is the safest place for student-athletes right now.
“You’re not changing the rules to fit the narrative; we’re not doing that. What we will do is stay with the protocols, live with the protocols, live with the challenges that are in front of us, and address them. Our numbers got thin in football a couple times and we were still able to play.”
“I will tell you, our young people, I feel like are in one of the safest places they can be. There’s no place where they’re getting better care. They’re being tested, in women’s and men’s basketball’s cases right now, three times a week and if there’s challenges in all of that, they have immediate care that we are able to get them. I’m not sure you could get that if you weren’t in our care. Does it require some sacrifice? Absolutely it does. There are some challenges in there but there are also lessons in all of that, that things that you desire, things you want to do, things that you’re trying to achieve, they’ll won’t come just because you want them to; there are some things you have to absolutely work your way through and fight to get to. And that’s the case in this pandemic. We’re having to fight an awful lot of things. The ability for us to be interacting with our teams face-to-face on a regular basis is really difficult. It’s really difficult. It’s difficult to have team meals. It’s difficult to travel. It is a real challenge.”
Barnhart gave special mention to the challenges coaches are facing during the pandemic. As we’ve seen at Rupp Arena and Memorial Coliseum, the bench wraps around the baseline so chairs can be properly spaced to ensure social distance.
“And I’ll tell you this: the staffs are tired,” Barnhart said. “The medical staffs and strength and conditioning staffs that have worked so hard, they’re tired and they have worked operationally, to get this thing up and running. It’s a lot. If you just watch what goes on in a women’s basketball game and the way that they’re on the side of the court and where those chairs are, it’s fascinating. I just think it’s much more difficult to coach the game because where Kyra [Elzy] might be able to say, ‘Sit here and I’m going to talk to you for a couple of minutes,’ that person is 20 feet away in a chair isolated and she can’t talk to her because she can’t talk and coach the game out here and you’re away from your team. It is way different in coaching your team than ever before. I think it makes it incredibly difficult. That’s why coaching in film sessions or coaching in practices or coaching in your film room, it’s really really imperative that you maximize that and get it right because the on the court coaching is so much more difficult than it used to be, in my opinion.”