Kelly Craft: Candidate donates to Kentucky football project

The University of Kentucky athletics department announced a $7.5 million donation from Republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly Craft and husband Joe Craft toward the renovation of the football program’s indoor practice field and construction of a new indoor track facility.

The project, which was approved by the Board of Trustees in February, was estimated at a total cost of $25 million.

As part of the donation, the new track facility to be constructed at the current site of Cliff Hagan Stadium, UK’s former baseball stadium, will be named after Jim Green, a former UK track star and the first African-American athlete to graduate from the university in 1971.

“Joe and Kelly have been very, very helpful to our program in so many ways for so long, almost since I’ve been here,” UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said after the donation was announced at Thursday’s Board of Trustees athletics committee meeting. “They’ve been sort of the cornerstone of our ability to grow our facilities. Obviously, the (Nutter Field House) is in bad need of renovation. It’s a 30-year facility. It affects literally probably close to 250 student athletes.

“…The indoor track facility is representative of a couple things. No. 1, our incredible success that our track and field programs have. We’ve got student athletes that are competing on the world-wide level that deserve to train in a facility that is representative of that. We’re training world champions and Olympic champions and national champions, and I want them to want to come home and train in our place.”

The basketball and football training centers on UK’s campus are already named after Joe Craft. He also led the donations for the Wildcat Coal Lodge, the dorm that houses members of the men’s basketball team.

The donation comes just more than a week after Kelly Craft announced her campaign for governor. She previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for President Donald Trump and was a member of the UK Board of Trustees.

Former President Donald Trump and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft appear at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby’s 148th Run for the Roses last May. Jonathan Palmer Herald-Leader

Asked if athletic department personnel had been given any guidance about weighing in on the governor’s race now that the department’s biggest donor had announced her candidacy, Barnhart deferred to university policy about participation in political campaigns. The university bars employees from engaging in political activities “in their official capacities, including instructional responsibilities.”

“We’ll have to be thoughtful about all of that and make sure we’re following those,” Barnhart said. “We’re trying really hard. It’s sort of a new landscape for us. There’s always been political races and things like that, but we’ve got to be very thoughtful. Everyone has got friends. We’re so appreciative of what Joe and Kelly have done for our program. That is one component of it, and there’s a component that is a political race that we’re very cognizant of and our role with the university and how that plays into it.”

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow both retweeted Craft’s campaign announcement, but asked about the tweet the next day after practice Stoops stopped short of officially endorsing Craft.

“I retweeted a very good friend of mine,” Stoops said. “Kelly Craft and Joe have been nothing but good to me for my whole time.”

This story was originally published September 15, 2022 7:49 PM.

Jon Hale is the University of Kentucky football beat writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He joined the Herald-Leader in 2022 but has covered UK athletics for more than 10 years. Hale was named the 2021 Kentucky Sportswriter of the Year.

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