The Kentucky High School Athletic Association last held its state football finals in Lexington 40 years ago, and University of Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said Friday the school is interested in seeing the event return to the city.
During UK’s football media day, Barnhart was asked about the prospects of UK hosting the state finals.
“Certainly we would desire to be in that conversation and have an opportunity,” Barnhart said. “When the time is right, we would certainly welcome that conversation.”
In a text to The Courier-Journal, KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett wrote the organization has known for a while that UK and the University of Louisville are interested in hosting the finals in the future.
“We are happy that several venues are interested, and I certainly have been, and continue to be, willing to sit down and talk with those event staffs at any time to answer any questions,” Tackett wrote. “We will continue to focus our current efforts on the present and our fantastic hosts at WKU and our partners at Russell Athletic and Spalding.
“At the appropriate time, we will give due consideration to all options for this great event.”
The state football finals have been held at Western Kentucky University’s Houchens Industries/L.T. Smith Stadium since 2009. The KHSAA’s current contract with WKU to host the football finals runs through the 2018 season.
Tackett said the process for evaluating the host site for the 2019 state finals and beyond likely would begin late in 2018.
Tackett previously has expressed concern about holding the state finals in a venue larger than WKU’s, which seats 22,113. UK’s Commonwealth Stadium seats 61,000.
“In feedback from our membership, WKU has an ideally-sized stadium for our event,” Tackett said in a November 2014 news release.
One knock in the past against Commonwealth Stadium hosting the football finals was its grass surface, but the school installed UBU Speed Series synthetic turf prior to last season.
“There are two or three pieces to that equation … (and) the fields, obviously, are a part of that equation,” Barnhart said. “With us now having the (synthetic) field, that is no longer an issue for us to have a playable field that can hold multiple games.”
Commonwealth Stadium last hosted the KHSAA state football finals in 1976, when all four classes were played there. The Class A and 2-A finals were held at UK’s Stoll Field every year but one (1967) from 1959-72.
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.