One of the foremost leaders in college athletics and SportsBusiness Journal’s 2019 Athletic Director of the year, Mitch Barnhart is in his 19th year at the helm of the University of Kentucky Athletics Department. Since his arrival in Lexington, Barnhart has steadily invested in the growth of all 22 UK teams while maintaining a singular commitment to the holistic development of Wildcat student-athletes. Matching resources to expectations has been a hallmark of his tenure, with the proof coming in the form of $300 million in facility improvements since 2007 and his bold pursuit of a goal titled Elite 1-3-5.
Even with UK’s sustained success, Barnhart is always seeking improvement. One recent example is UK’s newly launched Student-Athlete Experience Division. Through the division’s work, UK has renewed its commitment to prepare student-athletes to enter life after UK by equipping them with requisite professional skills and helping them identify and pursue internship and work opportunities while continuing to provide the academic support that has made UK Athletics a trendsetter in college athletics for the last four decades.
A steadfast believer in the transformational power of college athletics, Barnhart is influential on the national level. Already having served on numerous committees and boards for the NCAA and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), Barnhart completed his fourth year as a member of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee in 2020, which brings responsibility for selecting, seeding and bracketing teams, along with administration of the NCAA’s highest-profile event. He will serve as Chair of the committee for the 2021 event.
On a league level, Barnhart – the longest-tenured athletics director in the conference – was named chair of the SEC Athletics Directors in 2017, the latest instance of his active involvement in SEC projects. Of recent note is his work with the SEC Compliance Committee and the SEC Network Content Committee, which helped the highly successful launch of the largest new cable channel in television history.
Barnhart arrived at UK from Oregon State, where he served four successful years (1998-2002) as athletics director. Before OSU, he worked in athletics administration posts at Tennessee (1986-98), Southern Methodist University (1983-86), Oregon (1983) and San Diego State (1982-83).
Barnhart is a native of Kansas City, Kansas. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Ottawa University (Kansas) in 1981 and a master’s in sports administration from Ohio University. Barnhart and his wife, Connie have three children, Kirby Willoughby, Blaire Jansen and Scott; Kirby’s husband, McKenzie; grandsons, Cooper and Reece; Blaire’s husband, Andrew; and Scott’s wife Cassie.