By Les Johns
Editor’s note: This story is a sidebar to Part 4 of the Kernel’s series on the state of the UK football program.
Part 1: Financial deficiency capping UK football.
Part 2: Football rusty without ‘gold standard.’
Part 3: Less spending, lack of in-state talent hurts football recruiting.
Part 4: Just changing head coach may not be the answer.
If Boise State and San Diego State can be members of the Big East, then surely UK can consider a jump to the Atlantic Coastal Conference.
Some believe a radical change in the approach to football scheduling could make a impact on results and fan participation.
“Maybe it is time for Kentucky to go to the ACC. The thing that the university looks at in the past is that we can’t afford to leave the money the SEC pays us,” said Oscar Combs, founder of The Cats’ Pause and member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. “We’re a prostitute. They pay us so we won’t leave, and it is assumed that we will provide them anywhere from five to seven victories a year for the higher-ups.”
Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Mark Story explored that option just a week ago. He pointed out that in 79 years of competition in the SEC, the Cats have posted a winning conference record seven times. Meanwhile, they have gone winless in the conference 13 times.
“I am convinced that we can win a minimum of seven games in an ACC schedule, maybe even eight or nine,” Combs said. “If that happens, it will put 65,000 people in the stadium. People like winners. If you win, they will come. If you don’t win, they will stay home. And that is what has happened this year and last year.”
Mark Nagel, associate professor in the sport and entertainment management department at the University of South Carolina, doesn’t see that as a viable option.
“That would never happen. Kentucky would be crazy to leave the SEC. You are in a situation where you can’t leave. You take your lumps on the field, and find a coach you can keep that can build some success,” Nagel said. “Financially leaving the SEC is not going to happen.
Everyone wants to get in to the SEC, no one wants to leave.”
Combs also believes the Cats should drop the Louisville series to have the income from an additional home game every other year, and to ensure that the four non-conference games are virtually guaranteed wins.
“Those four non-conference games have to be absolute wins, no matter what. In a year that you drop one or two of those non-conference games, you are going to have a bad year at Kentucky,” Combs said. “Every other year (with the Louisville series), you don’t get any gate, parking and concessions for that game. I don’t think any school should be burdened with helping football for other people in their state.”