Sheer insanity. Up is down. Black is white. Michael Buble is acceptable football intro music. The Big East has a team in Texas. This is the bizarro dimension that has swallowed college athletics -- and in this strange new world, new rules apply.
Kentucky should invite Louisville to be the 14th team in the SEC -- because it's the best option for Kentucky.
I'll pause for a moment while you check to see if, as one Dr. Venkman predicted, dogs and cats are living together.
It breaks down like this: When (not if) Texas A&M joins the SEC, Kentucky takes another step back in the football pecking order within the conference. If any of the major candidates for SEC member 14 come to pass -- Missouri, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, West Virginia -- UK takes two steps back, and drops at least one notch within its own SEC division.
Worse, when (not if) the SEC expands to 14 teams, the league will almost certainly expand to a 9-game conference schedule to ensure the regular appearance of opposite-division opponents on everyone's schedule. That's one more guaranteed victory Kentucky can't schedule, and one giant additional hurdle on the path to bowl eligibility. Even in its worst year, West Virginia is astronomically tougher to beat than, say, Akron. This is the future staring down Kentucky football.
The easiest remedy for the a nine-game SEC schedule for Kentucky is to drop the Louisville game. Rest assured, this will be Option #1 when (not if) the SEC expands. Gone will be the revenue of the Governor's Cup game, and the overall interest in college football within the state generated by the gridiron rivalry. It's a net loss, no matter how much extra money the Wildcats earn from a Southeastern (Super)Conference. Give up your most popular game or give up a badly needed freebie win to ensure a shot at the postseason. SEC expansion is a no-win situation for Kentucky football, period.
Which is why Kentucky should invite -- even insist -- that Louisville be the 14th SEC member.
Ostensibly, there is a "gentleman's agreement" between league members not to expand into any markets (i.e. states) already claimed by current SEC schools. This is why no one is seriously discussing no-brainer invitations like Florida State, Georgia Tech or Clemson anymore. Kentucky could waive any objection to Louisville's invitation, and could do so most forcefully by suggesting the Cardinals' inclusion themselves.
Adding Louisville to the SEC means that a 9-game conference schedule is no tougher than UK's current slate, because the added team is one the Wildcats already play. And, whatever your biased opinions toward the Cards or the Cats, it means the 14th SEC member is not a substantially superior football entity compared to UK. It won't get any easier for Kentucky to win the SEC with Louisville as a 14th member, but it absolutely will not get any harder than the path UK has to follow today. That's Advantage #1.
(If, by some unlikely stretch, a 14-team SEC doesn't go to a 9-game conference schedule, adding Louisville actually frees up a nonconference spot for Kentucky, ironically making their path to bowl eligibility easier.)
Advantage #2: The basketball rivalry just increased by an order of magnitude. Kentucky and Louisville now get even billing with Duke-North Carolina on the hardwood, playing two if not three times per season. The wildcats get the one thing that outweighs their enmity for the Cardinals -- national attention. More specifically, they take away one of the tenets that North Carolina fans use to argue that they are basketball's ultimate collegiate program: a superior conference rivalry. Add Louisville to the SEC and suddenly the UNC versus UK comparison stops being about relative conference strength or ESPN respect and goes back to the "who has more rings" competition that Kentucky prefers.
Moreover, the SEC, while not gaining a TV market, gains infinitely more basketball credibility, and gets a showcase showdown it can use to leverage up the value of its basketball television contracts. Adding Louisville gives the SEC a marquee matchup it can sell twice per year, and a conference tournament that gets extraordinarily more interesting. This may be the one and only situation where a basketball addition could be worth as much monetarily as any of the football expansion candidates. It also leaves all the politically palatable candidates mentioned above on the board when and if the move to a 16-team SEC happens.
Setting aside whether joining the SEC is in Louisville's best interests, there is no doubt that adding the Cardinals is the best available option for Kentucky. This is the warped reality created by the gravitational mass of oncoming superconferences. It may sound unthinkable, but don't be surprised if this is precisely what comes to pass.