That’s Debatable: On the Conference Challenges…Posted by rtmsf on December 2nd, 2010
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season. We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at email@example.com.
This Week’s Topic: The ACC/Big Ten Challenge just ended, and the Missouri Valley/Mountain West Challenge began last night. The Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series gears up in earnest this evening after one game last weekend. The Big East/SEC Invitational starts next week. Are you a fan of these conference challenge events and what would you suggest to the powers-that-be to improve them?
Brian Otskey, RTC Contributor
These inter-conference events are good publicity generators and certainly give teams opportunities for quality wins early in the season. I’m a fan of the concept but aside from the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, these events do not receive enough national coverage. ESPN is obviously the driving force behind the ACC/Big Ten but I’d like to see them become more involved in the other events. The Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series would be a good start. ESPN televises some games but most are on FSN, stretched out over almost a month. Then we have the Big East/SEC Invitational. The Worldwide Leader covers it but the event has just four teams from each league competing. I realize the Big East is a 16-team monstrosity but why can’t we have 12 Big East teams play all 12 SEC teams over three days? Instead we have two games per night at neutral locations played over two non-consecutive days, hardly creating any buzz. When it comes to the Mountain West and Missouri Valley, let’s face it: most casual fans don’t care about non-name teams competing against each other. It’s a sad reality for us diehards, but casual fan interest makes the money and drives ratings.
David Ely, RTC Contributor
I think any event that prompts teams from the big conferences to play each other rather than the smaller schools is a good idea. Duke playing Michigan State is much better for the sport than Duke-UNC-Asheville or Michigan State-Eastern Michigan. That being said, there are things that could be done done to re-energize these events. I for one am tired of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It’s time to mix up the conferences. Give me an ACC/Big East Challenge to pit the two supposed basketball meccas against each other in a winner-takes-all series. How about a Big Ten/Big 12 Hardwood Series? There’s already a little bit of bad blood between the two conferences because of football realignment. Basketball should capitalize on that hatred. Whoever wins the first series gets the Texas football program?
Zach Hayes, RTC Editor/Contributor
I’m a huge fan of these conference challenge events. It forces coaches to play true road games against quality opponents and sets up marquee matchups that normally may not occur. Two years ago, I distinctly remember Duke was sent to Purdue in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge in a battle of top-10 teams. Because Coach K prefers to play neutral site games in most years rather than visit the home floors of elite non-conference competition, that Duke-Purdue game felt like a rare treat that wouldn’t have happened if the ACC-Big Ten Challenge was never invented. As someone that appreciates the mid-major game, the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge, while it lacks a premiere TV deal, is a fantastic way for quality Cinderella candidates to face off in December. The only change I would make is moving the ACC/Big Ten Challenge to open the season in mid-November. This solves the problem of a lackluster, trickling start to the college hoops season and instead the campaign would open with a bang that Michigan State-Duke or Purdue-Virginia Tech provides. Surely those two conferences would welcome the change as well, with basketball-starved fans tuning in to ESPN in even greater droves than in the current setup.
Alex Varone, RTC Contributor
Count me amongst just about every college basketball fan who enjoys the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. But as for the other conference events that have sprouted up on the college hoops schedule? Frankly, they leave a lot to be desired, which really comes as no surprise if you consider that no one else has replicated the ACC/Big Ten’s relatively simple formula for success. The first key is ESPN’s involvement. I know that’s not possible for every conference, but the Worldwide Leader is the home of the hoops regular season, and events such as the Challenge and BracketBusters work because of what ESPN does for them. The second ingredient is a fan-friendly schedule. That means no more month-long “series” such as what the Pac-10 and Big 12 have been pushing for years. After a month, it’s no longer an event–it’s just a random collection of non-conference games. And finally, play the games on campus sites, and not at neutral sites. For instance, does Rutgers-Auburn in Pittsburgh make any sense to anyone? The Big East and SEC both apparently think it does, as it will take place in this year’s Big East/SEC Invitational. If other conferences adopt the ACC/Big Ten’s formula, we’d all be better for it.
Andrew Murawa, RTC Contributor
I’m a big fan of these inter-conference events when they are done right. And so far, only one of these events is done right: the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Here’s what you need to do this right: 1) a couple conferences with roughly the same amount of teams, 2) a handful of nights over which to hold the event and 3) a television network ready and willing to televise the games. While the ACC/Big Ten Challenge has all of those, the rest fail somewhere. The MVC/MWC Challenge is a good challenge between conferences of roughly the same size and the event is held over the span of five nights (this year at least, last year it was more diffuse), but only the games on MWC home courts get “national” television (assuming we consider The Mtn. “national television”). The Pac-10 attempts to force two Pac-10 teams to play two games in their Big 12/Pac-10 event (so as not to leave two Big 12 teams out) and it is spread too thin with games being played until late December. And don’t even get me started on that SEC/Big East debacle. These events can be done right, just follow the ACC and Big Ten’s lead.
Tom Wolfmeyer, RTC Contributor
If it seems like these things have been around forever, it’s because they have. The original incarnation was the ACC/Big East Challenge, which started in the late 80s and went for a few years before petering out. Like any idea with that kind of vintage, it needs some sprucing up. The problems with the other major challenges are obvious — they either include too few teams (Big East/SEC) or they miss the key component of the word “event” (Big 12/Pac-10). Here’s an idea. Since ESPN already dominates regular season programming and the leagues have contracts in place to play one another, bring it all under one television umbrella to give us an entire week of challenges. Call it Challenge Week and start it the Monday after Thanksgiving. If they can gives us a Big 12/Big East Monday, a Big 10/SEC Tuesday, a Big East/ACC Wednesday and so on during the conference season, they could swing this too. Structure the games so that the 7 pm tips involve the eastern leagues and move across the country each night for a full week. It would be fun to keep track of each league challenge scoreboard with live look-ins through the studio. If ESPN wanted to get really progressive with this idea, they could encourage leagues to swap with each other every year. How would Duke visiting Allen Fieldhouse or Kentucky visiting Pauley Pavilion look every once in a while? From this angle, pretty damn fantastic.