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UK Athletics: The Born Identity

Dec 2, 2012; Lexington , KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops spoke to reporters with Athletic director Mitch Barnhart (left) after being introduced as the new football coach at Kentucky in the Nutter Field House. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Well, much to the surprise of more than a few members of the Big Blue Nation, University of Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart has made some waves around the college football world by hiring Florida State’s defensive coordinator Mark Stoops as UK’s next football coach.  Not only was Coach Stoops’ hire a watershed moment for Barnhart, but with the way  rest of the football staff  has to come together and as plans for facility improvements are made, this could be the defining moment in the history UK football.

Kentuckians, and Big Blue Nation members in particular, have the reputation for loving and living and dying with with each dribble of the basketball for their beloved Wildcats, Cardinals and Hilltoppers. But, what we have seen lately is how each fan base has become excited by America’s past time: football. UK hired Coach Stoops, UL retained the services of popular Coach Charlie Strong and Western Kentucky hired Bobby Petrino to run its football program.  And with each of those actions, both collectively and individually, the signal has been made to the rest of the country: the Bluegrass State is totally prepared to take football seriously. Very seriously.

Is there room for more than one prime time sport in Lexington and the Commonwealth? I say yes. Certainly, the ferocity and support UK fans show the Men’s Basketball Team is unquestioned and without equal. But, if the national media would stop and listen, most of the Big Blue Nation support the University of Kentucky no matter the sport, activity or endeavor. And with Mitch Barnhart setting the pace with the athletic department, the university appears to be on the precipice for an unprecedented run of athletic success.

Coach John Calipari has the men’s hoops team poised to remain among the nation’s elite with top ranked recruiting class after top ranked recruiting class.  Coach Matthew Mitchell has the women’s hoops team ranked in the top 15 and after back to back Elite Eight runs, a Final Four seems almost a near certainty. The women’s soccer team, under the leadership of Coach Jon Lipsitz, just finished their best NCAA tournament run in team history. And the volleyball team has had a run of Sweet 16 finishes. And baseball has become a contender in the ultra competitive SEC.  And the rifle team wins and wins. And the cheerleaders are the most successful athletic team ever. And on and on…

Dec 2, 2012; Louisville, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach Matthew Mitchell talks with his team during the first half against the Louisville Cardinals at the KFC Yum! Center. Kentucky defeated Louisville 48-47. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The key to all this success and the engine that will keep all of the teams pushing toward their championship goals, is football.  As it stands right now, the football team is the most profitable team at UK, subsidizing most of the other non revenue sports. And that’s with a history without extended periods of success. Imagine the cash flow once the football team becomes a consistently ranked program.  That’s money that can be used for upgraded facilities for all sports which, in turn, benefits all athletes at the university.

So, Big Blue Nation folks, take pride in knowing that the athletic department is becoming well rounded, with each team being primed for success.  At one time, this might have been the case, but if you think that the University of Kentucky is just Men’s basketball, you haven’t been paying attention. Big Blue has a whole new identity.

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