The idea of a mid-major vs. mid-major conference challenge isn't a totally new one. Readers are creative in this way, sending variations of high-major and mid-major early-season conference challenge ideas -- hey, what if we paired up the Atlantic-10 and the Mountain West? -- more frequently than you would think possible.
Still, give some credit to ChicagoNow's Chicago College Basketball Blog. If you're interested in seeing two mid-major conferences duke it out the way the Big Ten and ACC (and now Big East and SEC) do, the Horizon League and Mid-American Conference seem like pretty good places to start. From ChicagoNow's Chris Burrows:
Consider that during the 2010-2011 season HL and MAC teams met 28 times -- the average Horizon League team played close to three MAC teams in one season. [...] Under my proposed HL/MAC Challenge format, which would require little in the way of extra travel since these conferences are geographically similar (if you switch out Wisconsin for western New York), the ten Horizon League teams would all get two games against MAC opponents. That means two of the 12 MAC teams would only get to play one game each in the challenge for a total of 20 games.
You won't see high-majors playing 20 game challenges. No way.
In many ways, as Burrows writes, it's a natural fit. Not only do the two conferences already meet frequently, but the Horizon and MAC are evenly matched from top to bottom in most seasons, including last year.
An even more salient point is this: Small-college hoops conferences can have a tough time getting even die-hard college hoops fans to pay much attention before the BracketBusters shows up in February. If a challenge format would boost either league's profile -- and maybe this would work for a few other easily paired-off conferences, too -- then it almost seems like a no-brainer. At the very least, it certainly couldn't hurt.
(Update: As some folks on Twitter have pointed out, yes, I am aware that the Missouri Valley and Mountain West have paired up for the MVC/MWC Challenge the past three seasons ... I just didn't mention it in the post. Either way, this remains a solid idea for the Horizon and the MAC, no?)