There once stood a chance Kentucky would leave the SEC for the ACC.
Think about that, yeah?
Think about the ACC inheriting the Wildcats and the SEC losing them and how that could've altered the college conference landscape as we know it today. On the basketball side of things, there could be so much different. Do Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame eventually join? What about the Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami inclusions from last decade?
The alternate universe scenarios are fun to ponder.
So when did Kentucky -- which is a founding member (1932!) of the SEC -- considering jettisoning the Southeastern Conference for the Atlantic Coast? According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, it was back in "the 90s." You know, that time of American prosperity, surpluses, pogs, way too much flannel and the last era of truly dominant/veteran college basketball teams.
From the story:
"We talked to them very seriously, but very quietly," [former UK AD C.M.] Newton said last week. "Dr. Wethington had me go over and talk to them for a short period one evening."
Among the officials he met with, Newton said, were then-ACC Commissioner Gene Corrigan and then-Duke Athletics Director Tom Butters.
"They wanted us to come on and join their league," Newton said. "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."
Newton also added he still feels the ACC is the best natural fit for basketball-first Kentucky. I mean, UK is in the SEC and its football team hasn't finished above .500 in league play in -- check this -- 37 years.
All things considered, Kentucky's made the right choice by staying in the SEC both on the football side of things (in making money) and in continuing to lord over the league while developing a true natural rival in Florida in the past 15 years. It's been good all around.
But still. Picture what could have been.
The move is being discussed locally down in Kentucky, now, because Louisville's about packed up and about to be relieved from the one-year lean-to lease it had with the American Athletic Conference. On July 1 the Cardinals will officially be members of the ACC, while Rutgers will move off from the American to the Big Ten. Maryland will join Rutgers in that union, leaving the ACC, a move that still stings purists inside and outside of that league.
The Cardinals will get to join what's unquestionably the best basketball league in the country now. And Kentucky still proudly will call itself the best basketball program in the country. Rivalries and bragging rights aren't always marred by conference borders.