LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Forget, for a minute, the NFL talent UK must face on the field in the Southeastern Conference. This is what the University of Kentucky -- and its next coach -- are up against when it comes to recruiting, perception and culture.
UK spent $27.6 million to expand Commonwealth Stadium in 1999, its last major renovation of the facility. It has added $6 million in video boards, $2 million in football offices and a $158,000 in a training facility facelift in the years since -- with about $14 million in improvements all together. But this is what everyone else in the SEC has done in those same years:
Alabama: Spent $47 million in 2006 and $65.6 million in 2010 on separate expansions to Bryant-Denny Stadium, increasing its number of luxury suites from 85 to 159.
Arkansas: Spent $110 million to expand Razorback Stadium from 50,000 to 72,000, and currently has a $78-$95 million training center proposal on the table.
Auburn: Spent $22 million on a 2006 expansion at Jordan-Hare Stadium, completed work on a $16 million training facility.
Florida: In 2007 completed the $28 million Heavener football training facility and in 2002 finished a $50 million expansion that added club seating and suites at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Georgia: In 2003, spent $25 million to add 5,000 new seats to Sanford Stadium. In 2005, added 27 SkySuites at a cost of $8 million. It also upgraded stadium concourses and added a $33 million football training facility.
LSU: Expansion projects in 2000 and 2005 totaled around $100 million, adding 70 luxury suites plus additional seating and premium seating. In July, it got state approval for a $75 million project that will add 65 more suites, 3,000 club seats and new scoreboards and video boards. Cosmetic changes before this season included a new lighting system to bathe the north end of the stadium in purple and gold lights.
Mississippi State: Gained approval for a $75 million expansion project to Davis-Wade Stadium, to begin immediately after this season and be completed in 2014. It will be the stadium's fourth expansion since 2002.
Ole Miss: Spent $25 million in 2002 on a Vaught-Hemingway Stadium renovation. In 2011 launched a $150 million campaign for a stadium facelift and improvements to the basketball arena.
South Carolina: Spent $30 million in renovations over the past decade, not counting the $30.5 million it spent for land acquisition and development of a new tailgating area. It's also moving forward on a $14 million football practice facility, and recently added the SEC's largest video board.
Tennessee: In 2004 approved $200 million in football expansions and upgrades, including a $45 million training center that is recognized as one of the best in the sport at any level.
Vanderbilt: Yes, even Vandy is into the act, approving a $150 million upgrade to all athletic facilities, including $31 million for a new football practice facilities and $10-15 million for stadium improvements.
Even the new members are jumping. Texas A&M, upon being admitted to the SEC, announced $400 million (you read that number right) in renovations and expansions to Kyle Field, taking seating capacity to 103,000, and Missouri has won approval for $72 million in improvements.
It's a long, dry list of numbers, but I wanted to go through every school. Because in the time that UK has spent maybe $14 million in physical improvements, even Vanderbilt has invested $45 million, and schools with lesser resources like the Mississippi schools have funded more. Even state rival University of Louisville, with a smaller athletic budget, has spent well over $100 million on football facilities at the same time.
In fact, while UK's football practice facility got a $158,000 facelift last summer, UK privately funded a $3 million renovation of the team's Rupp Arena locker room -- used primarily on game days -- and has neared completion of the $8 million Wildcat Coal Lodge to house the basketball team. Billionaire Joe Craft headed the effort to fund the new basketball practice facility, which was completed in 2007 at a cost of $30 million.
Basketball is UK's signature sport. That spending, if UK athletics has the money or can raise it, should be spent.
But that's the message UK's next football coach will have to accept -- the school spent $41 million on facilities upgrades for basketball since 2007. In the same time, football improvements have barely topped the $14 million mark, against the competition you see listed above.
In addition to recruiting players and making the right calls between the lines, UK's next coach, ideally, would possess a strong enough personality to begin to change the culture, to demand that if athletics is going to spend money moving forward, it should be spent on football, where the competition is the keenest and where the most revenue is generated.
Certainly, UK can't keep up with most of the SEC Joneses. And facilities don't win championships. One problem is that other schools have less restrictive legal requirements when it comes to bonding and building. UK must bond all of its athletic facilities through the university, meaning the university must use its overall debt capacity to build an athletic facility, even if athletics has all of the money to retire the bonds itself. At the University of Louisville -- which just completed an $80 million football stadium expansion, the rules are the same, but the university carries far less debt. (Building a hospital, much needed in the region, has raised UK's debt and strained needed building projects all over campus.) You can win without top facilities. But it's too easy to recruit against a school that lags behind even Vanderbilt in improvements, especially when it is plowing so much money into its championship basketball program.
Former coach Rich Brooks chafed under this disparity. On the radio show of Joe B. Hall and Denny Crum last summer, he spoke candidly about the situation.
"Until Kentucky can spend and invest more of the money that football makes in football they shouldn't expect to be able to win the league," Brooks said.
"It does pay to invest in facilities. In the past 10 years there has been an arms race, the biggest one I've ever seen in college sports. Unless Kentucky gets in that line and tries to find ways to finance that then it will be a struggle."
Brooks said he was promised new facilities were in the works when he was hired, but sounded doubtful of UK's commitment.
"I was there and I was told that we were going to renovate our stadium and have a recruiting room, renovate the stadium, have club seating and do all the things that all the other schools in the SEC have," Brooks said. "That didn't come. It got mired up because a new basketball arena and new baseball stadium were thrown into it and it was just too big of a number.
"Look what Louisville did when they expanded Papa John's Stadium and Bobby Petrino was there – that never would have happened had they not invested in their football facilities. That never would have happened. We've done some things but not major spending like the Joe Craft Center in basketball. The recruiting room and the modernization of the football stadium needs to take place. If that takes place you'll see the Kentucky program take a step forward.
As for the changes UK has made, Brooks called them "band aids." He said small facelifts are no substitute for tackling improvements at Commonwealth Stadium.
"That is where you have to start right now," Brooks said. "You put suites between the goal lines and raise the press box on top of the stadium because that is so antiquated and so old. Get club seating in there with an area behind the concourse so they can go inside and get food and drinks. Then maybe you get more people tailgating inside and get more people in the stadium earlier as well. The new video boards were definitely an upgrade and that's a start in the right direction. (But) they are band-aids you're trying to put on things when you really need a retrofit of at least one side of the stadium."
In reports filed with the NCAA in January of this year, UK listed last year's total operating revenue for football at $34.02 million. The basketball number was $18.56 million. And on the spending side? It takes $2.75 million to pay for scholarships for football and $442,000 for basketball. The school spent $1.16 million on guarantees for visiting football opponents, $722,500 for basketball. John Calipari made $4.88 million; Joker Phillips $1.93 million. Those numbers include benefits and bonuses. No argument there. And the assistant football coaches made $2.84 million, while the hoops assistants made $1.24 million.
Support staff and administrators, however, made $979,906 for basketball and $635,889 for football. And the recruiting budgets? $336,035 for football, $317,426 for basketball. The university spent more money marketing football -- $33,980 to $7,172 for basketball. In all, the total spending was $13.7 million on basketball and $12.1 million on basketball.
When UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart balks at the notion that football is suffering because of basketball spending, those yearly spending numbers show that he's not wrong. The spending isn't out of whack. But when the facilities numbers are compared, the story is different.
Among UK followers, there's a prevailing sentiment that the school hasn't been competitive in the SEC, and likely won't be. It has won two SEC championships in its entire football history, since the league was founded 82 years ago. Talk to many UK fans and they'll site the history and tradition of the league as barriers, and they will note the disparity in resources.
Brooks, during his tenure, was angered by this resignation, and railed against it. UK's new coach will have to fight the same fight.
In reality, UK has some untapped potential. Brooks and others have shown that, when the program has the talent, it can be competitive, even if it hasn't broken through to upper-division status. The schools UK must compete with first -- Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt -- are programs that have fewer financial resources than UK.
But if UK is going to pursue a big-name coach, expect him to require a big-time football commitment, and not just in salary, if he's going to try to finally deliver UK football to SEC relevance.