BOZICH: Barnhart Whiffs Nicely While Recognizing Louisville's Success
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- You're the face of the athletic program at the largest university in the state. Class and integrity are two of your favorite words. Somebody could ask you about the weather, and you'll find a way to work those words into the answer.
Sportsmanship is another term you like. You're admired for that -- and should be. Sportsmanship is a term more of us should embrace.
You are Mitch Barnhart, athletic director at the University of Kentucky. This is your opportunity to show that sportsmanship is more than a talking point or something you worked into a mission statement and then forgot. (Here is a link to Ben Jones' story about what Barnhart said Tuesday.)
The University of Louisville, your neighbor, has delivered the Athletic Year of a Lifetime. Something you can't match. Something nobody can match. Not this year. It's time for a hat tip.
They won a BCS bowl game against a Florida team that has beaten your football team 26 straight by an average score of something like 42-17. A nice victory? Remarkable is a better word for what Louisville did to the Gators.
They won a men's basketball championship after losing one of their best players to a gruesome leg injury in a regional final. A nice story? Actually, America considered it The Feel-Good Story of the NCAA Tournament.
They have a coach, Rick Pitino, who made certain, that everybody in New Orleans knew that he was pulling for your school to win the national title after you beat him at the Final Four in New Orleans one year earlier.
Their women's basketball team didn't win a championship. They finished second. But they won many new fans. They beat Baylor, the No. 1 team in the nation with the No. 1 player in the country.
A nice win? Actually it was called the Greatest Upset in the history of the women's NCAA Tournament. And coach Jeff Walz's team also beat a Tennessee program that has been the face of your league, the SEC, for decades.
Now their baseball team is bound for Omaha, site of the College World Series, to play Indiana, another one of your rivals.
You're probably aware of what some of your fans have been saying.
That the Florida football team was disinterested at the Sugar Bowl. That it was a weak Final Four. That the U of L women got lucky. They're working on cold water to throw on Dan McDonnell's baseball team. They'll have something prepared before the Cardinals play IU Saturday in Omaha in prime time on ESPN.
But you're not a fan. You're a leader, the guy who is supposed to be above that kind of behavior. You're the guy who has always billed yourself as a high-road guy. You're asked for your reaction to what Louisville has achieved this year.
You have choices. And what do you say?
A. Wow! Louisville is really on a remarkable roll. Nobody has done what they've done this year. As a leader, it's always important to recognize great achievement and what Louisville has done has been a great achievement. I wish them success in Omaha. It's great for Kentucky.
B. Great for them – and great for us. Great for them because of the attention it brings to our great state, that we're not just a basketball state. Both schools have teams in a many sports that are really, really good. Their success is also great for us because it keeps us on our toes, working harder. We're going to get there, too. That's always been our goal -- and always will be.
C. They've had a nice year. At the end of the day, they've done some things in their major sports and they should be congratulated on that. They've had a nice year. What I'm proud of is the depth of our sports program and what we've done.
D. No comment.
If you guessed A, you're dreaming. Not going to happen – and I don't expect it to.
If you guessed B, you're thinking Barnhart actually gets it. Recognize success. Tip your cap. Rally your base. Win, win.
If you guessed C, you're likely as disappointed as I was, because that was part of what Barnhart actually said Tuesday.
A nice year?
Barnhart has done many good things at UK. He's a master at fund-raising. He's made several good hires, and some bad ones. That happens. He seems determined to upgrade UK football, and Mark Stoops has energized the UK fan base. That's good for football in the state.
If you guessed D, you realize saying nothing would have been better than Barnhart's condescending, back-handed pat on the back. He used the word, "nice," at least four times while talking about U of L, and then steered the conversation to the depth of UK's sports program and the basketball championship UK won in 2012.
Nice would be beating Ole Miss or Pittsburgh and showing up in the final eight of a few sports. What Louisville has achieved during this athletic year has not been nice. It's been historic.
Mitch Barnhart had a nice opportunity to show he understood that sportsmanship is more than a talking point when he was asked about Louisville's remarkable year.
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