Behind The ScenesNCAAB

New weekend, same compelling competition for Big 12/SEC Challenge

Today on ESPNU’s Katz Korner

Andy Katz, senior writer for ESPN.com, hosts ESPNU’s weekly Katz Korner (Thursdays, 4:30 p.m. ET). The following coaches are scheduled to talk about Saturday’s Big 12/SEC Challenge:

  • Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger (Oklahoma plays at LSU)
  • Kansas coach Bill Self (Kansas hosts Kentucky)
  • Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy (Texas A&M hosts Iowa State)

The Big 12/SEC Challenge Presented by Sonic has a new home – this Saturday, Jan. 30, when all 10 games will be staged for the first time on a “common-bye” date during the conference schedule. Usually played in early December – where it went up against college football conference championship weekend – all 10 of the Big 12 members will face off against 10 Southeastern Conference teams for the third straight year.

What hasn’t changed is where you’ll find the games: ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU will combine to air all 10 games.

College GameDay Covered by State Farm will make an appearance from a Challenge game – in advance of the Saturday Primetime presented by DIRECTV matchup between No. 4 Kansas and No. 20 Kentucky from Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan.

Front Row caught up with Doug White, ESPN senior director, Programming & Acquisitions, about the changes to this year’s Big 12/SEC Challenge.

Doug White (Rich Arden/ESPN Images)
Doug White

(Rich Arden/ESPN Images)

Why choose to play all the games on a common-bye date that is usually reserved for conference play?
The event existed previously on the Thursday through Saturday of college football conference championship weekend. Admittedly, it was a struggle to generate awareness and attention for the event given that competition, and at a time of year where college basketball is not front-and-center, as well as for fans to grasp the totality of the event. It was more a collection of individual games versus one cohesive event.

How did the idea come about?
Moving it to one Saturday in late January makes it more promotable and allows fans to better understand the connection between the 10 games. It also provides a new, exciting destination event on the college basketball calendar. While conference play is great, it can get repetitive week after week January through March. Having something different involving high level teams competing against each other across conferences is compelling. It also provides the teams involved a chance to step outside their conference and make a statement against quality competition, which could help them come Selection Sunday.

What were the scheduling hurdles you needed to overcome to get this done?
The only real scheduling hurdle was getting the two conferences to agree to adjust their conference schedules to create the one common-bye date across the board. Sounds simple, but it took a lot of work for the conferences and schools to agree and support the idea.

ESPN Vice President, Programming & Acquisitions, Nick Dawson, contributed to this post.

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