Big East/Big Ten Challenge: What This Means for the Big East

With Kevin McNamara’s announcement on Twitter that the Big East and Big Ten conferences have agreed to begin a challenge series in the 2015-16 season, it’s fantastic news for this new version of the Big East. Scheduling strong opponents outside the conference has become critically important for all member schools because of the defections of perennially highly ranked programs like Syracuse and Louisville among others from the in conference schedule. The Big Ten is arguably the 2nd best basketball conference in the country behind only the ACC.


Providence has been working on scheduling a Big Ten opponent for this upcoming season with Michigan being the one where negotiations seem closest to completion. Marquette plays in-state rival Wisconsin every season. Creighton and Nebraska do that same. Seton Hall and new Big Ten member, Rutgers, will be in year 2 of an 8 year series they agreed to in March 2013. Now all 10 members of the Big East will get to play a Big Ten opponent to start their season. It has been reported that each Big Ten team will play in the Dave Gavitt Tip Off at least 4 times with each Big East member playing in it at least 6 times over the course of the 8 year deal. The fact that this series will be named after the Hall of Famer, Dave Gavitt adds some special connection for Friar fans. It’s great to see that his greatness and legacy continue to carry further than just Friartown.

The games will be played in a 4 day period from Tuesday-Friday during the first week of each season in November. The Big Ten/ACC Challenge, an ESPN creation, will continue. In terms of television for these games, the coverage will be split among ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and the Big Ten Network with the home team determining which network the game will be aired on.

That takes care of the housekeeping. Now you know the details. But what does this new series mean for the Big East?

Fans have been clamoring for a while now about the need for a set series with a power conference to help all member schools for non conference scheduling. Many pointed to the PAC 12 as a potential partner because that is another conference that has their games played on Fox Sports so it was thought a mutually beneficial relationship could be hatched there. Others pointed out that the PAC 12 has never had any such series and has been resistant to doing anything like this in the past. Another popular fan theory was that the Big East should start a series with other Catholic schools like Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, Saint Louis, etc. This, they believed, would help in an effort to choose expansion schools when that time came. But the best scenario brought forth by fans on message boards and blog posts was to set up a series with the Big Ten.

It seemed like a perfect fit geographically and it was believed that Fox Sports would be willing to make a big push and overpay to get the conference’s media rights when their current deal expires in 2016. The thinking was that when Fox Sports grabbed the Big Ten’s media deal, they would leverage that to help set some series up. But that wasn’t expected to happen until 2016 or 2017. This is a pleasant surprise that Big Ten commissioner, Jim Delaney and Ackerman could come to an arrangement prior to any media deals. The Big East is coming off a mediocre first year which was not how this new version of the conference wanted to get out of the gates. A challenge series with the Big Ten which is arguably the 2nd best rated conference in the country serves to further legitimize this new Big East as a high major conference.

Here is how the Big Ten finished in conference RPI over the past 4 seasons:

Year Conference RPI
2013-14 2nd
2012-13 2nd
2011-12 1st
2010-11 2nd


Another area where this will surely help the Big East is in their television ratings on Fox Sports 1. The numbers for November 2013 were absolutely horrible for Fox Sports 1. Some of that can be attributed to a new network and not many people even knowing what channel the games would be on. But a look at the actual numbers isn’t pretty either way. The average basketball game on Fox Sports 1 drew 64,813 viewers (a .03 rating). Of games where at least 1 Big East team was playing in November, the numbers were even worse: avg 59,688 (.02 rating). From Paint Touches, “The biggest factor, though, was the dearth of quality games. Of the 16 tilts broadcast on FS1, only four were between high-major teams. Unsurprisingly, those garnered the top three most viewed games, with Marquette at ASU coming in fifth. The rest were contests that would be lucky to have made ESPNNews, and would have been relegated to regional coverage 95% of the time.”

So it seems pretty obvious that the more games with high quality opponents (both teams in each game) are winners for ratings for the network. The numbers got stronger as the season went on which is a positive but the numbers in November can’t be this bad again. For comparison, here’s a chart from the guys at Paint Touches that shows ratings averages by month:

November 1,233,000 359,628 121,750 110,500 157,100 64,813
December 1,464,769 501,051 141,650 33,000 77,600 77,381
January 1,486,367 449,514 139,688 58,143 47,529 97,263
February 1,430,477 378,608 139,792 48,625 92,500 112,639
March 1,414,030 396,143 161,417 73,143 70,857 200,080


The announcement at Madison Square Garden will be at 12:30pm today. Bill Raftery will be the Master of Ceremonies and he will be joined by Big Ten commissioner, Jim Delaney, Big East commissioner, Val Ackerman, Providence College President Fr. Brian Shanley and NCAA VP of NCAA Basketball Championships, Dan Gavitt.

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