Call it a coincidence or simply call it a business decision, but this will be the final year for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in basketball. It’s the end of an era in college basketball, but we probably should have seen this one coming.
On Monday, ESPN announced this season will be the final year for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge that has been a staple of the college basketball schedule for both conferences since its first season in 1999. In its place, starting next year, ESPN will introduce the ACC/SEC Challenge. ESPN is also bringing a close to a similar series with the final SEC/Big 12 Challenge being played in January.
The Big Ten is leaving ESPN entirely in its next media rights package, which begins next season. Big Ten games will be carried across a shared media rights package arrangement including CBS, FOX, and NBC in addition to the Big Ten Network. So it may have been an obvious expectation that ESPN and the Big Ten would go their separate ways with any made-for-TV scheduling arrangements for the foreseeable future. With ESPN having a stake in the ACC and SEC with the ACC Network and SEC Network, and no longer having a vested interest in the Big Ten, the writing was on the wall as soon as the new Big Ten media rights package was confirmed.
It would make sense for the Big Ten to start up a similar scheduling arrangement with another conference, although finding a suitable partner that can help boost the product overall may become slightly more difficult as the next wave of realignment changes happens. The Big Ten is adding USC and UCLA in 2024, and the Big 12 is losing Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC in a few years as well.
Big Ten schools can still arrange their own scheduling agreements with members of the ACC or SEC, of course. But not having a network-sponsored scheduling arrangement already set in place could be a void to the basketball product.
ESPN’s results without the Big Ten will be interesting to see as the numbers between an ACC/Big Ten Challenge and ACC/SEC Challenge will certainly be compared and contrasted against one another. The reach of an ACC/SEC Challenge could overlap more than the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but time will tell how this all plays out for all parties involved.
So cherish every game in this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge for what it is, as it will b your last taste of this fun annual series of games.
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