John Calipari, the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, wants a new practice facility. Nothing unusual there. Every coach wants his facilities to be the best they can possibly be.
But in his very public campaign to get it, Calipari recently said this to a reporter:
”And the reason (we deserve a new practice facility) is this is a basketball school,” Calipari told Kyle Tucker of the Athletic. “It’s always been that. Alabama is a football school. So is Georgia. I mean, they are. No disrespect to our football program. I hope they win 10 games and go to bowls. But this is a basketball school and we need to keep moving in that direction and keep doing what we’re doing.”
While Calipari insisted he was showing no disrespect, Coach Mark Stoops, in his 10th season at Kentucky, clearly took the remarks as a lack of respect for what his program has accomplished under his guidance
First, he responded on Twitter:
“Basketball school? I thought we competed in the SEC.” His tweet also pointed out that the Wildcats had been to six straight bowl games with four straight wins.”
At a post-practice interview last Saturday Stoops, the proud son of Youngstown, Ohio, was still fuming.
“I don’t care what anybody says about their program,” said Stoops. “That’s not my business. That’s not my lane. Don’t demean and distract from the hard work and dedication and commitment that people have done to get this this point.”
Stoops began his career at Kentucky with SEC records of 0-8, 2-6 and 2-6 in this first three seasons. There were a considerable number of Wildcat fans who wanted him gone. But Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart (no relation to this writer) doubled down and invested $50 million into a brand new office/training complex and then spent another $125 million on a major upgrade to Commonwealth Stadium (now Kroger Field). Kentucky has since posted five winning seasons in the past six years with two 10-win seasons (2018, 2021). Kentucky has only four 10-win seasons in its history. Stoops has two of those.
“Listen, we all know this program wasn’t born on third base,” Stoops said. The implication was clear. Kentucky basketball under Calipari and Kentucky football under Stoops started building in very different places.
Barnhart, considered one of the best athletics directors in the business, was not happy to see his two high-profile coaches in an all-too-public spat. So he said this: “We’re not a football school. We’re not a basketball school. We are both of these and so much more.”
Actually, it’s a good thing that these comments were made by these two coaches, who have a combined 23 years of experience at Kentucky. This is a conversation those who work in college athletics need to have. Some quick thoughts:
**--Calipari has every right to make his case that Kentucky basketball needs better facilities. Kentucky represents basketball royalty and the head coach wants a training facility that reflects that status. And it doesn’t hurt recruiting either.
**--But Calipari’s bosses at Kentucky also have the right to remind the head coach that he is part of a larger organization and that means upgrading facilities as part of a master plan. Barnhart has said there have been a number of upgrades to the Joe Craft Center, which is 15 years old. As of now, there are no plans on the books to build what Calipari wants.
**--Calipari has since said publicly that he was wrong to use the term “basketball school” to describe Kentucky while describing other schools, like Alabama and Georgia, as “football schools.”. That’s something that fans do. He knows better.
**--The fact is that in today’s environment, given the amount of money that football generates now and will in the future, EVERY school is a football school.
**--Using terms such as “football school” and “basketball school” is a throwback to the days when former head football coaches were athletics directors and made sure football was taken care of to the exclusion of all else. Today, given the athletic budgets of most Power Five schools, it is expected that all schools will have a broad-based athletics program for men and for women.
**--Kentucky was ranked as having the No. 9 overall athletics program in the nation in the President Club standings released by Learfield. The SEC led all conferences with nine schools in the Top 25: Florida (5), Arkansas (7), Kentucky (9), Tennessee (13), LSU (16), Georgia (19), Ole Miss (20), Alabama (22), and Texas A&M (25). To label any of those schools as simply a “football” or “basketball” school misses the bigger picture of what’s going on in college athletics.
**--I side with Stoops on this one and here’s why: I sat in his office after his first three teams at Kentucky went 4-24 in the SEC.
“Man, we are so close,” he said, holding his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart. He was right. That $200 million investment in football has paid off.
Mitch Barnhart told me the same thing.
And speaking of Barnhart, let us not forget he hired both coaches and gave them the opportunity to be successful. And they have. He gets the last word on this—and he should.
So. What’s your take on this spat? Go to my Twitter account @MrCFB and tell me what you think. I’ll print the best responses on Saturday on si.com/college/tmg. Please book mark the page.