Nature, you may have heard, abhors a vacuum. So, it turns out, does local television.
When the Southeastern Conference joined forces with ESPN to launch the new cable TV SEC Network, it meant the demise of the old syndicated package of SEC football and basketball games that used to appear on local TV stations like Lexington's WKYT.
That absence of SEC programming is why, if you tuned into Channel 27 at noon Saturday, you got Louisville playing football at Virginia. It is also why ACC basketball will be broadcast weekly this winter in (insert the voice of the late Joe Dean) Lexington, K-Y.
With SEC games no longer available to it, Channel 27 — long the "Kentucky Wildcats station" in the Lexington market — has picked up the syndicated football and men's hoops packages of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"Would we rather have the package of SEC games that had been available to us in the past? Yes, of course," WKYT General Manager Chris Mossman said Friday. "But that was no longer an option. The ACC was the best property that was available to us."
For WKYT, Mossman said the choice was whether it would be better this fall to fill the early Saturday afternoon programming slot left vacant by the SEC's departure with a live sports event or with a bloc of half-hour infomercials. "We decided we'd still rather carry live college football than a half hour of how to make money flipping real estate and a half hour of how to remove hair from your legs," Mossman said.
As a CBS affiliate, WKYT will still have one marquee SEC football game every Saturday. CBS gets first choice each week of SEC contests, and the game it chooses is televised at 3:30 p.m.
In what is exciting news if you are a genuine college basketball enthusiast, Mossman said a weekend ACC hoops game will be televised this winter in Lexington on a weekly basis. There is no better college basketball league in the land than the one that now includes Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Virginia.
The most attractive ACC games — think Duke vs. North Carolina — go to ESPN properties. But Mossman says the ACC syndication package will include appealing matchups such as North Carolina at Pitt and Pittsburgh at Syracuse.
This may be an SEC town, but would you rather watch Mississippi State-South Carolina play hoops or an ACC game of the week?
Yeah, me too.
A season ago, under the pre-SEC Network TV contracts, Channel 27 carried 14 regular-season Kentucky Wildcats men's hoops games. There were five delayed telecasts produced by IMG's UK network. There were four Cats games from the SEC syndication package and five games produced by CBS.
In the coming men's hoops season, Channel 27 will still have five regular-season UK games from CBS. Included are circle-your-calendar matchups with North Carolina (Dec. 13), UCLA (Dec. 20) and Florida (March 7).
But WKYT has lost the other nine Wildcats telecasts it had a year ago, many to the SEC Network. Would there not be a certain sports irony if Louisville games wound up filling that programming void?
That could happen. Mossman said WKYT also has the rights to a package of weeknight ACC men's hoops broadcasts. Included are several U of L games — Jan. 7 vs. Clemson; Jan. 28 against Boston College; Feb. 3 vs. Miami; and Feb. 11 against Pittsburgh.
However, Mossman said it has not yet been determined how or whether those week-night U of L games will be broadcast (Channel 27 also controls the programming feed of The CW Lexington, which is cable channel 5) in Lexington.
"We used to get killed by (non-sports) viewers when we would preempt, say, a Survivor or a NCIS for an SEC game that wasn't UK," Mossman said. "I can't imagine what it would be like to (preempt) for an ACC game. So we don't have a strategy yet for the prime(time) Louisville games."
It would be irrational to feel this way since the SEC took its programming off local TV, but I asked Mossman if he feared any kind of backlash for introducing ACC telecasts into UK's home market.
"We would still be carrying the SEC if we could. That was not a choice we made," he said. "The ACC is a pretty good basketball league. What I think is Kentuckians want to watch good basketball."