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University of Kentucky Wildcats Likely to End Football Program After 2015 Season

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Much like their Southern neighbor and former scheduled opponent UAB, money and greater success in other sports will lead to the closing of the entire football program.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

I came across this piece of information purely by accident, and I can't decide whether or not I'm sad. I have no real opinion for or against Kentucky - I don't hate them like every obnoxious Florida Gators fan I've ever met, I guess I'm sad, since I hold no ill will towards or personal bias against the Wildcats.

During the course of creating our "Replacing UAB" series, I had to spend a minute on Kentucky. There were numerous teams that had to fill holes in their schedule after the Blazers closed down their football program, and Kentucky was one of them. Kentucky was also the outlier due to the fact that, as of last month, they still had not replaced UAB on the non-conference portion of their schedule.

Then I noticed something - not only had Kentucky not replaced UAB in their nonconference schedule - they did not have anybody scheduled for out-of-conference play, except for their ongoing Governor's Cup series with Louisville, whose present form dates back to 1994 and was extended through the 2019 season last summer.

This gave me a bit of a pause, and a bit of an uneasy feeling in my stomach, not unlike that time I decided a second round of nachos before halftime was a good idea. UAB had been dropping numerous clues prior to their football program being shuttered.

There are several reasons being cited for the closing of the program, one of which was the collapse down the stretch in 2014. Back in October, the program issued a contract extension for head coach Mark Stoops. Things were looking strong for the Cats, as they had exploded out of the gates and fell one triple-overtime loss to Florida shy of a perfect 6-0 start.

And yet, they failed to even reach bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010, as the contract extension was preceded by a blowout loss to LSU and a domination by Mississippi State. It was then followed by getting manhandled by Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee respectively, before Kentucky piddled away a two-touchdown lead in a season-ending loss to Louisville that guaranteed another losing season.

The Tennessee game, in particular, stung for the athletic administration.

"We just can't seem to beat any of our rivals," athletic director Mitch Barnhardt said. "We're already three years removed from beating Tennessee for the first in a good while, and we're even further removed from beating Louisville or Mississippi State. Hell, we've barely managed to play .500 ball against [Vanderbilt] lately."

Barnhardt also cited his 15 for 15 in '15 plan as a driving force behind this decision. He wanted Kentucky athletics to achieve status as one of the top 15 athletic programs (according to Director's Cup standings) by the time 2015 rolled around, and they finished 11th a year early last year. But that was despite the football program, not because of it, as the program earned that finish despite being 10th in the SEC halfway through the year.

The program intends to shift its focus, largely due to the success of both basketball and baseball, which were a big reason why they placed second in the SEC and 14th overall in the Director's Cup second half standings. Football improved academically in 2014, but the season-ending collapse and the promise it ripped away was too much to stomach.

Basketball, in particular, has become an elephant in the room. With the stunning undefeated season that the Wildcats have put together on the court thus far, football has come under an increased level of scrutiny for its lack of financial efficiency relative to wins produced on the field.

Financial projections from the 2013-2014 season show that Kentucky basketball and football receive about equal shares of expense money allotted to each program. However, the return on investment in the form of wins has widely varied for the two sports. The following shows the actual or projected amount of money invested in each program, depending on what data was publicly available:

Season Football Wins Basketball Wins Football Expenses Basketball Expenses Football Expenditures Per Win Basketball Expenditures Per Win
'13-'14 2 29 $12,587,627 $12,888,205 $6,293,814 $444,420
'12-'13 2 21 $9,500,000 $13,672,723 $4,750,000 $651,082
'11-'12 5 38* $9,048,732 $10,165,526 $1,809,746 $267,513
'10-'11 6 29 $14,352,110 $12,355,375 $2,392,018 $426,047
'09-'10 7 35 $13,905,724 $8,615,726 $1,986,532 $246,164
*National Championship								Source: University of Kentucky Athletics Department

Here's what those numbers would look like if Kentucky basketball were to play 12 games a season and their record was adjusted by winning percentage.

Season Football Wins Basketball Wins (adjusted by winning %, rounded) Football Expenses Basketball Expenses Football Expenditures Per Win Basketball Expenditures Per Win (adjusted)
'13-'14 2 9 $12,587,627 $12,888,205 $6,293,814 $1,432,022
'12-'13 2 8 $9,500,000 $13,672,723 $4,750,000 $1,709,090
'11-'12 5 11* $9,048,732 $10,165,526 $1,809,746 $924,139
'10-'11 6 9 $14,352,110 $12,355,375 $2,392,018 $1,372,819
'09-'10 7 11 $13,905,724 $8,615,726 $1,986,532 $783,247
*National Championship

In this increasingly dog-eat-dog world of college athletics, who can continue to justify expenses such as these for such a low return on investment in football? UAB President Ray Watts, long held as a paragon of financial virtue and wisdom, hailed the decision to shutter Kentucky football as "another victory for fiscal responsibility in an era of rising college football expenses."

The lack of financial success in football has not only met the ire of UK fans, the athletic department, and university administration, but it has reportedly raised some eyebrows in the state legislature as well. An interesting comment by "FuzzyG" in the Kentucky Kernel article raising the specter of financial troubles with Kentucky football adds some context:

Folks, it isn't the athletics dept at UK that doesn't want to invest in football. There have been many proposals for football related investments that have been shot down by the BoT or legislature over the years. This past year's state budget had a $100M line item that was sent to the legislature only to get whacked to the cutting floor.

Sounds like a Board of Trustees willing to make some tough choices to help move UK forward.

This report is obviously in no way, shape, or form an April Fools joke. Clearly.