Turning Down Basketball Practice Facility Help “Not in my DNA”

College coaches want the best facilities in the country. Over the summer the competition for upgrades led to a war of words between John Calipari and Mark Stoops. That old feud bubbled back to the surface this week. Friday morning Mitch Barnhart tried to diffuse the situation, particularly the facility piece, by explaining the long process required to make significant changes to infrastructure on the University of Kentucky campus.

In February the Board of Trustees approved a $25 million proposal to give Mark Stoops a 100-yard indoor football facility. Track and field currently takes up some of the real estate, shrinking the old practice surface for the UK football team. Of the allocated money, $20 million will go toward building a new indoor track and field complex at the old Cliff Hagan Stadium, with the other $5 million spent on renovating Nutter Field House.

By August, John Calipari was in the Bahamas with his team, prepared to pitch the need for a new basketball practice facility. That’s when he called Kentucky a “basketball school” and uproar followed. It’s apparent Calipari did not intend to fan flames among the fanbase. He just wanted a new basketball facility after Mitch Barnhart reportedly said, ‘no.’

“These are not snap your fingers things and that’s what has been explained,” he told KSR Friday morning. “It wasn’t, ‘no.’ It was, ‘Here’s the process.’”

The Long Facility Building Process

In Kyle Tucker’s Thursday morning story in The Athletic, he reported John Calipari had already secured pledges of about $30 million in funding for a new basketball practice facility. That sounds like a lot of money. According to Barnhart, it’s actually only about 40% of the projected budget.

“When you say you got $30 million, you think you can do $30 million. There’s not pledges in hand. Those are things we hope to do together and get to a spot,” Barnhart said.

“But those processes in construction, just for everyone’s information, are 18 to 24-month processes. Even if we started last summer, it would probably be the fall or summer 18-24 months away from that to be able to go through design, through funding, the approvals through the trustees and the state to get the shovel in the ground to get it going. And along the way, we’ve got to make sure and we’re in cahoots with the master plan of the university for spacing, as well as Title IX and gender equity, which means whatever we do for men’s programs, we got to have an equal space and equal opportunity for our women’s programs, which is critical.”

Barnhart is currently in the process of getting another renovation approved. The Kentucky athletic director expects final approval for changes to Memorial Coliseum in February, with construction forcing four teams out of the gym for a year, starting next fall.

“Even if we had pledges in hand, it’s not going to allow me just to begin tomorrow to go throw a building together and put a shovel in the ground,” said Barnhart.

Barnhart would like to have a new basketball facility

Moving forward, if John Calipari has $30 million ready to help build a new facility, Mitch Barnhart will happily accept it, and then some.

We’ve had conversations about a facility. We would like to have a new facility. There’s no question about that. I get that. But at the end of the day, there is a significant process and we’ve explained that to everyone that we have to go through to get that done. That’s number one,” he told Matt Jones.

“Number two, I think that he thinks he can go raise $30 million, and he should. He’s got he’s got lots of friends in the basketball community that have absolutely got the ability to help us and we would love to have that help. I think what he was saying, and I will confirm that he said, ‘I think I can do that.’ And that’s a part of it. That’s probably about 40% of the project.”

There’s no telling when this problem could potentially be solved — at least 18 to 24 months away — but Barnhart is showing a willingness to work with John Calipari to make it happen. His resume reflects that, helping construct new baseball, softball, soccer and track complexes during his time at Kentucky, while renovating Kroger Field and building the Joe Craft Football Training Facility.

“If you look at our history, we’ve done almost a half a billion dollars in capital construction since I’ve come on as athletic director for all of our sports programs, including basketball on multiple fronts. That does not even include the almost $200 million renovation of Rupp Arena.” He added. “That’s not my DNA to turn away help for capital construction.”

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