ESPN, the BIG EAST Conference and the Southeastern Conference (SEC) have reached an agreement for 12 members from each of the two premier conferences to play each other in a men's college basketball inter-conference Challenge the week after Thanksgiving starting in 2011. ESPN will provide exclusive coverage of all 12 games across ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU. The new BIG EAST/SEC Challenge will mark an expansion and modification of the SEC/BIG EAST Invitational, a four-year event from 2007 to 2010 that featured four matchups between the two conferences from two neutral sites.
The new BIG EAST/SEC Challenge format will feature 12 games over three days beginning on the Thursday after Thanksgiving of each year. The 2011 schedule will include four games a day Thursday, Dec. 1 through Saturday, Dec. 3. The event title will alternate to the SEC/BIG EAST Challenge in 2012 and be played Thursday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 1.
All 12 games each year will be played at home campus sites with each conference hosting six games a year. SEC teams will alternate home and away games. Twelve of the 16 BIG EAST teams (17 teams in the second year) will participate each year with home, road and no-game assignments determined for 2011 and 2012 in advance of the 2011 event. Matchups, times and network assignments are to be determined.
"We are thrilled to continue to showcase two of the best college basketball conferences through a new BIG EAST/SEC Challenge," said Burke Magnus, ESPN senior vice president, college sports programming. "We applaud the conferences and their schools on their enthusiasm for the series and know fans will look forward to a true test of conference superiority each year beginning in 2011.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said, "The Southeastern Conference is pleased to provide this expanded opportunity for all 12 of our member institutions to participate in the SEC/Big East Challenge each year. The ability to showcase SEC basketball on the various ESPN platforms in this type of conference competition makes this a magnificent and fun event for our coaches, student-athletes and fans."
BIG EAST Commissioner John Marinatto added, "The past four years of the SEC/BIG EAST Invitational have provided both of our respective fan bases with high quality and exciting matchups prior to the start of our conference regular seasons. We are now pleased to expand the format to offer even more competition, and bring these games to campus sites. Add to the equation the exposure that ESPN provides and you have a truly wonderful event."
Over the four years of the SEC/BIG EAST Invitational, the conferences split the series in 2008 and 2009 and each won one (SEC in 2010 and BIG EAST in 2007).
Since 1999, the SEC (four) and the BIG EAST (seven) have combined for 11 Final Four appearances and five national titles: Connecticut (1999 and 2004), Florida (2006 and 2007) and Syracuse (2003).