This year’s news that ESPN will no longer have Big Ten rights beginning next July raised a lot of questions. We now have an answer on one notable front: what exactly it means for the interconference Big Ten/ACC and Big 12/SEC men’s and women’s basketball challenges that ESPN has long televised and helped to organize. On Monday, the network (along with the ACC and SEC) announced the formation of a new ACC/SEC men’s and women’s basketball challenge, and the end of those existing challenges.
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) November 28, 2022
The release specifically spells out that this marks the end of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge (which has its last edition, its 23rd for men’s basketball and 15th for women’s basketball, this week) and the SEC/Big 12 Challenge (which has its 10th men’s challenge in January, and also had a women’s challenge from 2014-21). Here are some quotes from it:
“We look forward to showcasing the talented men’s and women’s programs throughout the ACC and SEC in the years ahead through this exciting new collaboration with both conferences,” said Nick Dawson, ESPN Vice President, Programming. “Since establishing the very first interconference challenge in 1999, these events have been a staple of our college basketball schedule for more than two decades. We thank both the Big Ten and Big 12 for their partnership in the final year of our existing events and look forward to finding more ways to creatively partner with both conferences in 2023-24 and beyond.”
“The future ACC/SEC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Challenges will be outstanding events for our student-athletes, member institutions and fans,” said ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips, Ph.D. “The SEC, led by Greg Sankey, and our partners at ESPN have been terrific, and there’s great excitement for the first annual ACC/SEC Challenge next season. As part of this announcement, we’d like to acknowledge the Big Ten for its partnership on the ACC/B1G Challenge that spanned more than 20 years.”
“We are excited women’s and men’s basketball student-athletes will have the opportunity to compete with their colleagues from the ACC as we initiate a new Basketball Challenge experience,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “I appreciate the collaboration of Jim Phillips and the ACC members, along with our broadcast partner ESPN, to make possible the SEC/ACC Basketball Challenge which will provide our fans with exciting basketball early in the 2023-24 season. I also thank the Big 12 for the many great challenge games we experienced together in past years.”
It makes some sense for ESPN to put this together, as they’ll have full rights to both the ACC (which they already had) and the SEC (where they had lots of rights, but not the full package) beginning in 2024-25. Their new SEC deal also includes significantly more men’s basketball (including up to 20 men’s basketball non-conference games exclusively for ESPN+), and some of that has already kicked in. And it makes sense that they don’t want to do the ACC/Big Ten challenge now that they no longer have Big Ten rights (they’d still have rights to the games there hosted by the ACC, but this allows them to coordinate with another conference where they have full rights).
The particular loss here may be for the Big 12, which recently struck new deals with both Fox and ESPN, but still wound up on the outside of this one. But it seems quite possible they could wind up with something with the Big Ten or Pac-12. And the language here keeps the door open for ESPN to find ways to “creatively partner” with both of these conferences. We’ll see if anything comes of that.