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Kentucky in the ACC? It could have happened

Kentucky v Florida Getty Images

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.

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7 Responses to “Kentucky in the ACC? It could have happened”
  1. frug says: Jun 20, 2014 7:07 PM

    The exact time of those discussions is not defined, but the ACC added Florida State in 1991 to get to 12 teams.

    FSU was the ACC’s 9th team. They didn’t reach 12 until BC joined after the original Big East raid.

  2. Kevin McGuire says: Jun 20, 2014 7:51 PM

    Absolutely. Corrected that. Thanks!

  3. dontaco says: Jun 20, 2014 8:26 PM

    Many pics they couldve used and they decide on the pilsbury throwboy,classic lol

  4. drummerhoff says: Jun 20, 2014 9:13 PM

    Basketball school looking at a basketball conference… That’s not breaking news.

  5. planecrashguy says: Jun 20, 2014 9:58 PM

    I heard UK also was approached by the B10 in the early 90s.

  6. bfree2k says: Jun 21, 2014 9:11 AM

    frug says: Jun 20, 2014 7:07 PM

    The exact time of those discussions is not defined, but the ACC added Florida State in 1991 to get to 12 teams.

    FSU was the ACC’s 9th team. They didn’t reach 12 until BC joined after the original Big East raid.

    The last four words that you thought you quoted from the story (…to get to 12 teams.) does not appear in this story nor the story in the Lexington Times-Leader. Why make sh!t up?

  7. deadeye says: Jun 21, 2014 8:37 PM

    Very interesting read.

    I think it underscores the reality that universities and conferences are in discussions all the time. For an actual change to occur, the stars really do have to line up.

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