University of Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart gave some news that has the majority of Big Blue Nation scratching their collective heads. When the SEC decided to life the conference wide ban on alcohol sales at sporting events, the onus was then put on individual institutions on how to proceed. For a lot of the BBN, the hope that Kroger Field would sell alcohol starting in the fall shone brightly. On Thursday, Barnhart extinguished that hope by flatly stating that UK will not sell alcohol to the general public.
Mitch Barnhart has been a great Athletic Director. He was recently named Athletic Director of the Year. UK finished the year ranked 14th in the Director’s Cup Standings for all collegiate athletic departments. An overall program that was in the 40s and 50s is now a perennial top 15 program under Barnhart’s watch. Facilities have been upgraded for all sports, new fields for baseball, softball and soccer and upgrades for football, Rupp Arena and Memorial Coliseum. Every team has had its best finish under Barnhart (even men’s hoops that won a school record 38 games in 2012). That should be Barnhart’s legacy.
Unfortunately, the UK Athletic Director’s legacy will be a bit different. To quote Marc Anthony in Julius Caesar: “the evil that men doth live on after them, but the good is oft interred with the bones.” For all the good that Mitch Barnhart has done in Lexington, two things will just never go away. First, the checkboard pattern on most of the athletics teams’ uniforms. I’m a fan, most people aren’t. But his unwillingness to be flexible about it really irks a lot of fans. And secondly, there’s a perception that UK doesn’t care about the average fan and this alcohol sales decision does not change that.
Most Kentucky fans understand that you need big time boosters to contribute to the athletic program for on the field success. I think most Big Blue fans understand that the good seats at Rupp will be dominated by “blue hairs” that won’t stand up, won’t cheer and generally make Rupp Arena one of the quietest gatherings of 20,000-plus people ever (big games are an exception). At football games, however, there was a feeling that maybe, just maybe there was a more egalitarian standing with the fans.
When Kroger Field was renovated and the suite levels were expanded, alcohol sales and consumption were allowed… only in the suites and not to the general public. With more and more areas of the stadium available only to the wealthier of fans, resentment has grown. Parking spaces were displaced for additional tail-gating amenities for the wealthy. And UK Football fans, fans that have invested the most and seen the smallest amount of return have become immensely frustrated. At this point, deservedly so. With college football attendance being down across the board (Clemson didn’t sell out every game last season), it would be beneficial to do more to bring fans to the stadium instead of keeping them away.
Mitch Barnhart is a great AD. I understand that he wants fans to be responsible with alcohol at University of Kentucky sporting events. The BBN is aware of the boy that lost is life in a drunk driving accident outside of Kroger Field last year. But, if you’re going to hold one group of fans to a certain moral standing and not hold all fans to it, you allow the perception to grow that UK does not care about all of its fans. Anyone will tell you that over time, perception becomes reality. Is this the reality for UK Athletics?