Was Kentucky supposed to play at Pitt this year?

Jeff Gross

Pitt's non-conference schedule this season is one of the weakest in recent memory...but could it have been significantly better?

We all remember the BIG EAST/SEC Challenge, the pseudo tournament in which the two conferences go head-to-head with the winner being the conference who records more victories than the other. Pitt was one of the original eight participants in the challenge, facing Tennessee at the Consol Energy Center in 2010. In 2011, Pitt again faced Tennessee, this time in Knoxville, when the challenge was expanded to all 12 SEC teams and 12 of 16 BIG EAST teams. When the 2012 Challenge's matchups were released, Pitt was saving an open date for an SEC opponent. However, the BIG EAST decided to be petty and leave Pitt out of the Challenge all together.

Pitt wasn't selected to play in the challenge this season, which came as a shock to athletic director Steve Pederson and coach Jamie Dixon when Gavitt called Wednesday. Dixon and Pederson told ESPN.com that they were promised by the league that it would be part of the challenge for the coming season -- and that the Panthers would play at home (Pitt played at Tennessee last year). Dixon said the Panthers had planned on the SEC game being one of their marquee home games as part of their non-conference schedule. Now, the Panthers are scrambling to find a replacement.

"We were led to believe we had a home game all along," Pederson said. "At no point were we told that we wouldn't get a home game. They've put us in a difficult spot. All Jamie and I were waiting on was who we were playing. We're very disappointed, obviously."

Pitt was left scrambling to fill the opening in their home schedule and did so with the Detroit Titans. But who were the Titans replacing? That was something that was never said, until last Friday.

The Beaver County Times ran an article discussing Pitt's weak non-conference schedule and how in the history of the Petersen Event Center, there has never been a non-conference game against a nationally ranked opponent. In doing so, they dropped this tidbit of information.

Reportedly, Kentucky was nearly a ranking christening in Oakland until the Panthers, who held an open date for a home game to host the SEC/Big East challenge, was snubbed by the Big East from participating in the event, possibly payback for Pitt’s announcement to depart the conference for the ACC.

The Kentucky Wildcats, the reigning national champions, were supposed to play at the Petersen Event Center. Let that sink in for a moment.

Whether the BIG EAST purposely left Pitt out of the Challenge due to their bitter breakup can only be speculated. But what we do know is that the Kentucky game was then awarded to Notre Dame. Yes, the same Notre Dame that also abandoned the BIG EAST.

The only difference, Notre Dame left the BIG EAST three months after the schedule was announced.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics.

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