Kentucky Wildcats: Would Kentucky be better suited in the ACC?


When you think of the Kentucky Wildcats, you think basketball and the Southeastern Conference, or for short, the SEC. The University of Kentucky was one of the thirteen members of the Southern Conference who left in 1932 to form their own athletic conference, being the SEC.

Since the founding, ten of the original thirteen members remain, with the departed schools being The University of the South “Sewanee” (left in 1940, current member of Division III Southern Athletics Association), Georgia Tech (left in 1964, current member of the ACC), and Tulane University (left in 1966, current member of the American Athletic Conference).

Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky Wildcats /

Kentucky Wildcats

The University of Kentucky is a paramount of the SEC, with majority of the athletic programs playing in the conference, aside from non-SEC sponsored sports such as Men’s soccer (member of Conference-USA), along with the Men’s and Women’s Rifle programs serving in the Great American Rifle Conference.

The Kentucky Wildcats have an illustrious record in the SEC, attaining in men’s basketball 46 regular season titles (one has since been vacated) and 27 SEC tournament titles (again, one has since been vacated, and this figure does not contain UK’s 2015 SEC title) with the first titles being both regular season and conference tournament champions during Kentucky’s first year in the league in 1933. Other SEC stats include football (2 SEC titles, last being in 1976), volleyball (4 regular season titles, 5 SEC tournament titles), cross country (men’s: 4 SEC titles; women’s: 3 SEC titles), tennis (men’s: 2 regular season titles, one SEC tournament title; women’s: one regular season title), women’s basketball (one regular season title, 2 conference tournament titles), baseball (one regular season title), women’s soccer (one regular season title, 2 SEC tournament titles), and men’s golf (one SEC title). All of these titles are prior to this athletic year.

With all of this being said, we come to the main question of the story: Would the University of Kentucky be better off in the Atlantic Coast Conference?

The ACC has continued to up it’s competition level over the years, most in part within the last decade and some change. Due to multiple conference realignments, mainly reaping from the Big East Conference’s demise, the ACC has some new blood, staunch competitors and an even fiercer reputation both on the field and off of it (many of the conference’s institutions are considered to be high academic ones as well).

The first round of Big East jumpers came in 2004 and 2005, with Miami (FL) and Virginia Tech signing with the ACC on July 1st, 2004, then one year later Boston College joining on July 1st, 2005. The next round of conference realignment spanned from September of 2011 through November of 2012, with Syracuse and Pittsburgh submitting applications to become members of the ACC, as well as Notre Dame and Louisville to follow within the next year.

With all of the additions, the ACC would lose only one member in the University of Maryland this past year to the Big Ten, in which Louisville would replace immediately.

When talking about membership, the ACC has quite the résumé. Since the conference was found in 1953, only two members have left the league (South Carolina, who was a founder of both the SEC and ACC in 1971, and the aforementioned Maryland). The Atlantic Coast Conference has continued to add to its membership, while sustaining its high level of competition over the years.

Among its current members, the main schools with the most National Champions attained by its programs are North Carolina with 40, Virginia with 21, Notre Dame with 16, Duke with 15, and Syracuse with 13. Those are the top 5 of the ACC prior to this athletic year, and if Kentucky were to join the league today they would stand in 6th place in that list with 11 National titles. UK currently sits in 9th place in the SEC, where the overall competition from top to bottom in all sports is at a higher level.

Despite the ACC being unable to provide a higher playing field equivalent in all sports to the SEC, the ACC does boast an undisputed higher résumé that most Kentucky fans follow closely with, and ultimately care more about – basketball.

The ACC boasts a total of 16 national titles in men’s basketball, and each season comes with high expectations due to college hoops mainstays UNC, Duke, Louisville, and Syracuse. All of this while the SEC offers up only 11 of those same titles, with 8 of them belonging to Kentucky.

Aside from the hot topic of basketball, the ACC also offers a different level of competition in football. Now, when I say different, I mean a high level of competition, but obviously not near as high from top to bottom as the SEC. The SEC boasts their own undisputed level of football with 37 national titles from its members, with the ACC only providing 10 among active members.

Not the same quality, obviously, as the SEC, but does the Kentucky football program truly need to go head to head with those schools who attained the 37 championships? Their record doesn’t think so. As mentioned above, the Wildcat football program has two SEC titles, but also claims to one national championship in 1950. Their all-time record is the miserable part, with the Wildcats program showing a below .500 record, and an all time record of 587-599-44 (a winning percentage of .495.) Kentucky’s last bowl game came in 2010, when the Wildcat’s played current ACC member Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass bowl and lost by 17, 27-10.

The Wildcat’s also haven’t seen a winning record since they went 7-6 in 2009 under Rich Brooks in his last season at the helm. Kentucky has been apart of the SEC in football, but hasn’t been effective, well, truly ever. The Wildcats have only had seven 8-win seasons since their 1950 title.

All this in mind, it makes sense for UK to move to a football conference that they could actually play in.

Moving to the majority of sports, the ACC doesn’t just up its competition in one single area, but all around the 13 sports that are offered for men, and the 14 sports offered for women. The SEC on the other hand only offers 9 sports for men, and 12 for women.

A few of the sports the ACC has dominated in includes women’s soccer (24 national titles, compared to SEC’s one title), men’s and women’s lacrosse (Men: 29 national titles, Women: 15 national titles; sport not offered by the SEC), and men’s soccer (17 national titles, sport not offered by SEC). The ACC is able to offer UK athletics as a whole a new variety of sports that the Wildcats could excel at, as well as compete in it’s own conference in men’s soccer.

Both of the SEC and the ACC offer benefits and setbacks in their own way with their unique conference memberships and sports. Overall, I truly believe that the University of Kentucky would be better suited in the ACC. First of all, you look at what most Kentucky fans want to watch, and that is basketball. With the ACC, you have the potential to relive a UK vs Duke game once, twice, maybe even three times in one season.

More from Bluegrass Dominion

With the same exact statement being said for North Carolina and UK’s main rival, Louisville. By playing those schools in particular, you enable the Kentucky basketball program to also schedule an extra non-conference opponent, instead of having to use one of the non-conference games for Louisville, and in years past for UNC. By Kentucky being in the ACC, fans would get to witness the best that college basketball has to offer night in and night out among the great programs of this basketball level. Sure, this current Kentucky team wouldn’t be undefeated in the regular season if it were in the ACC, but how much fun would it have been to see this team play in Cameron Indoor, or have the Blue Devils come to Rupp Arena for a national championship caliber matchup? If that doesn’t make you have cold chills, then I don’t know what will.

Also, the ACC would give Kentucky football a fresh start, and an opportunity to improve that not so impressive record. The Wildcats struggle night in and night out during the fall in the SEC. Playing in the ACC would give UK the chance to play with championship caliber teams (i.e. FSU), but also the ability to win against decent quality teams as well that could be looked at as on the same level of play as the Cats.

All of that can be said for the rest of the Kentucky athletic programs as well with the added competition level and variety the ACC has to offer. For example, Men’s soccer for UK would finally have a home among the rest of it’s Kentucky program counterparts in the ACC, rather than playing in a smaller conference like it does currently in C-USA.

All the while, the benefits would be enormous for UK to be in the ACC. However, most likely, we will never see that day come. Not because UK is unwilling to cut ties with the SEC due to tradition and heritage in the SEC, but more importantly because of the revenue share that the Southeastern Conference brings in.

More from Kentucky Wildcats

For the 2013-14 fiscal year, the SEC was able to send out $20.9 million to each of its members thanks to the revenue sharing program. The revenue sharing money is generated from televised football, bowl games, the SEC football championship, televised basketball games, the SEC basketball tournament, and NCAA championships. Not to mention the still-new SEC Network.

Also, the University of Kentucky leans on its football program to make money and is the achilles heel for UK athletics. The university owns Commonwealth Stadium, thus generating money directly towards the school. On the other hand, contrary to what many people assume, the university makes little money from its basketball program due to the city of Lexington owning Rupp Arena, thus relying on boosters with the “K-Fund” for financial support. So as long as Kentucky generates is sole financial income though football, and the high level of competition that the SEC brings, I’m afraid that my wants won’t be met, and anyone else who thinks that UK ought to be in the ACC will suffer the same.

There is, however, one slight glimmer of light for the ACC hopeful, as the conference generated its own stockpile of revenue sharing, sending out $20.8 million to its 14 full members, just $100k shy of the SEC’s. Still yet, I doubt we will see the day come where ACC is stitched upon a Kentucky jersey.

After giving you all of that food for thought, let us know what you think. Should UK take a risk and give the ACC a shot? Or is Kentucky better suited to stay where it is and always has been? Let us know here with a comment below or on twitter @BlueGrassDom.