Friedlander: Bye bye ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It was fun while it lasted
ESPN giveth and ESPN taketh away.
So sit back and savor this week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Because the annual made-for-television competition between the 2 most prominent conferences in men’s college basketball is about to go the way of the 2-hand set shot.
ESPN and the 2 conferences involved announced the Challenge’s discontinuation Monday. Its demise comes as a direct result of the new $7 billion media rights deal the Big Ten signed during August.
The Challenge was a creation of ESPN and has served as an entertaining transition from football to basketball for the past 23 years. It has provided fans with a welcome break from the usual early-season blowouts of directional schools and given coaches a measuring stick to help evaluate their team’s strengths and weaknesses heading into conference play.
But with the network losing the Big Ten football and basketball contract to CBS, Fox, NBC and FS1, the arrangement had to end. It will be replaced by a similar men’s and women’s basketball challenge between the ACC and SEC, both of which still are affiliated with ESPN.
The quality of the matchups and interest in the games don’t figure to change much, if any, under the new format. The only real difference will be the opponents and venues. And perhaps the intensity of the rivalry that has built up over the past 2 decades of head-to-head competition.
It should be noted that the Challenge isn’t necessarily a true indication of the leagues’ standing in the college basketball pecking order. The bragging rights only last until March, as was the case last season when the Big Ten won the the series 8-6 but got shut out of a Final Four that featured 2 ACC entries.
Considering the way the Challenge has gone during recent years, this might actually be a good time for the ACC to start facing some new blood.
The ACC leads the all-time series with the Big Ten 12-8-3, but it hasn’t come out ahead in the Challenge since 2017. Its record is just 2-8-3 since winning the 1st 10 events beween 1999-2008.
And things don’t bode well for this year’s finale.
The Big Ten has won 5 of the 7 head-to-head meetings already contested between the leagues this season. That includes Purdue’s 75-56 domination of Duke at the Phil Knight Legacy in Portland, Ore., on Sunday.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the ACC will go into action with 6-1 NC State sitting on the sideline as its odd team out, while Florida State and Louisville – which are a combined 1-13 in the early going – will be on the court representing the league.
This year’s festivities already are already underway. The ACC is off to a 2-0 start after wins by Virginia Tech against Minnesota and Pittsburgh at Northwestern.
Tuesday’s schedule will feature Virginia at Michigan, Wake Forest at Wisconsin, Georgia Tech at Iowa, Syracuse at Illinois, Maryland at Louisville and Penn State at Clemson. The Challenge will wrap up Wednesday with Duke at home against Ohio State, North Carolina at Indiana, Michigan State at Notre Dame, Purdue at Florida State, Rutgers at Miami, and Boston College at Nebraska.
Schedule Announced for Men's Basketball 2022 ACC/Big Ten Challenge https://t.co/AKxYnqGSwg
— Frank Jessie (@frankdjessie13) June 25, 2022
It’s a shame the event will end without us ever getting to see the matchup everyone, with the possible exception of the folks at Duke, wanted to see.
There wasn’t any love lost between the Blue Devils and Maryland when the Terrapins left the ACC for the Big Ten in 2014. Even though Coach K and Gary Williams both have ridden off into the sunset of retirement and won’t be around to lock horns again, it would have been fun to see Maryland return to Cameron Indoor Stadium to play its former ACC antagonist.
Better yet, having the Blue Devils venture into the hostile environment of XFinity Center to face the Terps on their home floor, surrounded by their rabid fans.
Still, there are some juicy possibilities beyond the obvious once the SEC comes into the picture.
How about Vanderbilt against UNC at the Dean Dome in a homecoming game for Commodores coach Jerry Stackhouse? A “Buzz Bowl” between Buzz Williams’ current Texas A&M team and his former program at Virginia Tech? Or maybe an opposites-attract matchup between fast-paced Alabama, which currently ranks 3rd in Division I in possessions per game, against deliberate Virginia, which ranks 351st?
There’s always the possibility of a rematch of UNC’s 4-overtime loss Sunday to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational.
The interesting dynamic is that the new ACC/SEC Challenge will take place immediately following its unofficial football equivalent – a rivalry week schedule that includes interconference clashes between Florida State and Florida, Georgia Tech and Georgia, Louisville and Kentucky and Clemson-South Carolina.
If nothing else, it will give the ACC an immediate chance to get even for the SEC’s annual dominance on the gridiron.
But that’s a topic to be addressed in the future.
Until then, there’s still one more ACC/Big Ten Challenge to be contested and savored.