The idea of any school leaving the SEC for another conference is pretty laughable today, but it was a bit more realistic of a possibility sometime in the 1990s, perhaps when the ACC was in the process of expanding before jumping to raiding the Big East for football reasons with the additions of Miami and Virginia Tech, followed by Boston College (and of course much later down the line Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame*). Louisville will be joining the ACC this year, but years ago it could have been Kentucky who joined the ACC, according to former Kentucky athletics director C.M. Newton.
In a report by Lexington Herald-Leader, Newton shared some background on Kentucky exploring the possibility of leaving the SEC for the ACC, suggesting the discussions took place sometime in the 1990s. The exact time of those discussions is not defined, but the ACC added Florida State in 1991. It could be reasonable to suspect Kentucky was an option around that time, and Newton’s arrival at Kentucky as AD just two years prior (along with the naming of Charles Wethington as president of the university at the same time) seems to fall in line with that thought.
“We talked to them very seriously, but very quietly,” Newton said last week to the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Dr. Wethington had me go over and talk to them for a short period one evening.”
The idea was very real, and Newton gave it some serious thought, and if Kentucky made the push it might have been possible Kentucky took Florida State’s spot in the ACC instead, which would have changed the history of both conferences pretty drastically.
“They wanted us to come on and join their league,” Newton recalled. “I thought, with the way (UK) football was (struggling in the SEC), that might have been the best path for us. I always felt like (Florida State) was an SEC school in the ACC and Kentucky an ACC school in the SEC.”
At the time the ACC added Florida State, the conference was still mostly regarded as a basketball conference. Some would suggest that is still the case today despite recent national success on the football field. Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina in the same basketball conference? That would have been fun, but the ACC would have been lacking much power in football for years to come. Florida State joined the ACC and immediately dominated and represented on the national level. Where would the ACC be today with Florida State? That is difficult to say, at least as far as football is concerned. Would the Seminoles have wiggled into the SEC? Would the ACC still have been able to attract Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College years later?
Where would Louisville be today if Kentucky had joined the ACC? Would the Cardinals be joining the ACC this fall, or would they be playing in the Big East, which may even still exist. It is funny to think how the ripple effect could have been altered if Kentucky made the move.
* Remember that Notre Dame is not a football member of the ACC, but a scheduling partner to compliment the partial membership for the Irish.
Helmet sticker to Eye on College Football.