Kentucky mens soccer to join Sun Belt Conference for 2022 season


The Wendell and Vickie Bell Soccer Complex was filled with fans to watch both the men’s and women’s soccer teams win their matches at the Wendell and Vickie Bell Soccer Complex in Lexington, Ky., on Sunday, August 31, 2014. Photo by Jonathan Krueger

Cole Parke

Kentucky mens soccer is headed to the Sun Belt Conference for the 2022 fall season, ending a 16-year stint with Conference USA.

The announcement came on Wednesday morning, when the Sun Belt Conference went public with the fact that it was bringing back mens soccer as a sponsored sport following the acquisition of C-USA’s Old Dominion and Marshall.

With the announcement and subsequent hype video, the Sun Belt showed Kentucky, fellow SEC usual South Carolina and Coastal Carolina, who plays in the Sun Belt for most of its varsity sports, as new members of the conference.

Also joining the Wildcats in the move is James Madison, who formerly played in the Colonial Athletic Association before moving all varsity sports to the Sun Belt, Georgia State and Georgia Southern, who are regular members of the Sun Belt but had been playing in Mid-American Conference, and West Virginia, who also played within the MAC.

The addition of the Mountaineers is an exciting one for Wildcat soccer fans, with UK and WVU putting on a double-overtime thriller in the season prior, with Kentucky’s Daniel Evans scoring the golden goal in the second extra period.

Kentucky would go on to be defeated by eventual champions Clemson in the Sweet 16, while West Virginia made it to the Elite Eight, where it lost on penalty kicks to No. 3 Georgetown, with both teams looking to be top dogs in their new conference.

Kentucky, South Carolina and West Virginia will all be Sun Belt members in mens soccer only, remaining in the SEC and Big XII for other varsity sports.

The announcement was not the first of its kind, with the Sun Belt having previously sponsored mens soccer from 1976-1996 and again from 2014-2020 before returning this coming fall.

The conference landscape in mens soccer is a lot different than many college sports fans may realize, with only around 205 colleges hosting mens soccer teams as opposed to around 333 womens soccer teams.

With the new decade seeing wild conference changes and movement, including the addition of at least two more new Division-1 mens soccer teams in the fall, the move can hardly be described as out of nowhere.

The 2022 mens soccer season is currently scheduled to begin in the fall, with the first games set for August. Coming off its best season in program history, Kentucky will look to become the first conference champions in the newly reborn Sun Belt conference, possibly taking the claim for final champions of Conference USA if the conference is unable to secure new member programs.