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Thursday, December 16, 2010
Big East/SEC Challenge expands, moves

By Andy Katz

The Big East/SEC Challenge worked well when Kentucky and Connecticut played before a packed house at Madison Square Garden in December 2009.

Getting Kentucky to host nearby Notre Dame in Louisville made sense, too. So did having Pitt play Tennessee on a neutral court in the brand-new Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh last week.

But the undercard games such as Arkansas-Seton Hall in Louisville and Auburn-Rutgers in Pittsburgh appeared to be for friends and family only. Even when Syracuse played Florida in Tampa last season or Alabama took on Georgetown in Birmingham, the games had some empty seats and an atmosphere that didn’t feel cozy.

That’s why the Big East and SEC realized they had to do what the ACC and Big Ten did with their challenge -- go on campus.

The two conferences, along with ESPN, announced Thursday a new two-year agreement involving all 12 of the SEC teams and 12 of the 16 Big East teams (in 2011; 12 of 17 in 2012 when TCU joins) to play games on campus the week after Thanksgiving. Matchups and sites will be determined at a later date.

The previous four-year SEC/Big East Invitational was a tough scheduling assignment for the Big East. Big East associate commissioner Tom Odjakjian had told ESPN.com in the past that it was a struggle to find locations and get the marquee teams in the event on the right dates. Not having some of the key teams in the event every season also hurt the marketability. Kentucky was a must-have to be in the event multiple times for a guaranteed gate in New York and Louisville.

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott recently canceled the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series as he eyes a new television agreement for his soon-to-be 12-team league. Scott said the three-week, spread-out series was hard to market. That series was home-and-home games, but because it was on two different networks and lasted nearly a month there was no hook to keep it relevant in the news cycle.

Playing the SEC/Big East Challenge over a weekend, much like the three-day ACC-Big Ten Challenge, will keep the event relevant.

The SEC and Big East split the previous invitational over the four years of the event, but even that is hard to measure since the event didn’t involve all of the marquee teams in a given year. This expansion should help create a fairer assessment.