Frank McGuire (left) led South Carolina to its greatest run of basketball success in the 1970s, but he also led them out of the ACC. (AP Photo/Mark Elias)

 

In 1971, after winning a conference tournament championship and making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 12 years, South Carolina decided it would be better off as an independent.

 

The conference was the ACC.

South Carolina had been a founding member of the Atlantic Coast Conference since 1953, but the relationship between the school and the ACC’s flagship schools in North Carolina was dicey. There were disputes about revenue and academic standards. With athletic director Paul Dietzel and basketbal coach Frank McGuire leading the way, South Carolina became an independent after the 1970-71 season.

McGuire, the Hall of Famer who earlier had coached North Carolina, led the Gamecocks back to the NCAA each of the next three seasons as an independent. Then the program went into a long period of barely being mediocre. This season’s NCAA Tournament bid was just the fifth for South Carolina in the last 43 years. The Gamecocks have reached the Final Four for the first time and will take on Gonzaga Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

South Carolina joined the Metro Conference in 1983 for all sports but football, but it didn’t do much to help the basketball program. The Gamecocks made the NCAA Tournament once during their time in the Metro. In 1991, South Carolina moved to the Southeastern Conference. There is no doubt that move has paid off for Gamecocks athletics as the SEC is now one of the two wealthiest conferences in college sports.

The Gamecocks won an SEC basketball championship in 1997, made the NCAA Tournament again in 1998 and 2004 and won the NIT in 2005 and 2006.

Now, under coach Frank Martin, South Carolina is two wins away from an NCAA title, but maybe it would not have taken this long if the Gamecocks had stayed in ACC more than four decades ago?