A view of the south side of renovations planned to be completed at UK's Commonwealth Stadium in 2015.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Missouri is primed to do in two
seasons what Kentucky has failed to do in two decades – win the East Division
of the Southeastern Conference.
Take another look at those wacky SEC football standings.
That is officially Vanderbilt parked ahead of Florida and Tennessee.
This isn't simply a strange year in the SEC. Duke is
positioned to have a 10-win season. Minnesota has already won eight. Baylor has
nine. Don't be shocked if Arizona State win the Pac-12.
It's been a great season for the Have Nots of college
football to more fun than they've had in years. Kentucky wants in on the
celebration – and UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart keeps moving as if he is
determined to get there.
Fancy stadium upgrades are not a chapter in all of these
success stories. But Minnesota built a new place. Baylor renovated its stadium
in 2005 and will move into a new stadium next season. Kentucky wants the
football world to understand the program is all-in on moving beyond mediocrity.
It started by recruiting Mark Stoops and his new coaching
staff a year ago. Now the Wildcats are making a $110 million investment to
pursue Missouri, Vandy and the confirmed heavyweights of the SEC.
That's how much money Kentucky will spend to make
Commonwealth Stadium sparkle and sizzle. It's less than a total rebuild but
more than several fresh coats of paint, new restrooms and a better sound
system. In fact, the athletic department will also contribute $65 million
toward the construction of a new science building.
Barnhart told the architects he wanted something "cool and
classy." A decorative cover will be wrapped around the steel structure,
featuring Kentucky limestone. Reclaimed barn wood will be molded into lobbies
and suites. Concourses will be widened. Concession menus will be enhanced.
"Hopefully (we're) making it more intimate and hopefully
making a better atmosphere for what we're trying to do," Barnhart said. "We
didn't walk into this thing thinking we were going to get the Dallas Cowboys
Stadium … I want it to be something when people walk into it, they say it's got
a taste of Kentucky.'
Strangely, the place is getting taller, yet smaller – at
least in terms of capacity, downsizing to 61,000 seats. There will be
approximately 6,000 fewer seats but considerably more suites on the South side
of Commonwealth, which opened in 1973.
I think that's a wise move. It's an old philosophy, one that
Howard Schnellenberger preached at the University of Louisville: Create demand
for your tickets by making them more difficult to secure.
"I think most people think is bigger is better," Barnhart
said. "I'm not sold on that. Maybe when you guys kick me out of here and I'm
gone, people will say, ‘Boy, that knucklehead downsized our stadium.'
"There is a reason most of these (new NFL) stadiums are
smaller … about 65000. I think smaller, making it more intimate and getting
people closer to the action is where we're going to end up.
"We want to make sure that it's a tight ticket. I've been a
part of places and programs where the seats were plentiful and you're
struggling to fill them. All of a sudden that ticket is not as valuable to the
public. You can walk up and pick it up on game day. It's not really helpful to
The press box moves to where has moved in nearly every other
stadium – to the top of the structure, above the latest addition of suites.
Groan if you insist. Some fans who pack their lunches for
games will groan because their stadium experience may not be enhanced – other
than quicker trips to the restrooms. But more amenities for folks who can
afford them is the American way. Resistance is futile.
If you're a football player, this is the paragraph you'll
want to read. New designer locker rooms will be tucked under the stands in the
East end zone. The dressing area will sit beneath the recruiting lounge that
Kentucky head coaches have wanted since Jerry Claiborne was in charge. Student
seating gets shifted to the end zone, too, wrapped around a tunnel where the
players will enter the field.
It will all be ready for the 2015 season, when the Wildcats
play eight home games and coach Mark Stoops will be working his third recruiting
class into the lineup.
"I hope that in two years when we open this thing people are
going to walk up and say that's pretty cool, it's pretty neat," Barnhart
said. "A lot different than what we