ACC/Big Ten Challenge... Can it Survive?

ACC associate commissioner and director of men's basketball operations Fred Barakat: ACC/Big Ten Challenge Likely to Stay at Nine Games in 2004; Future Uncertain Beyond That.

Last month, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge didn't seem like much of a challenge. With ACC teams winning seven of the nine games, including blowouts by Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Duke and Florida State, there was never any real suspense that the Big Ten would snap it's "Commissioners' Cup" drought, which now spans the entire five years of the Challenge's existence. There are many who believe that the addition of Virginia Tech and Miami to the ACC next season would actually make for a more competitive event, and perhaps even give the Big Ten a better chance to win it. But would the ACC's expansion prompt ESPN to add two more games to the 2004 Challenge?

According to ACC associate commissioner and director of men's basketball operations Fred Barakat, there is no plan in place to add more games to the event next season, and since only one year remains on the Challenge contract with ESPN, all parties involved are uncertain about what will happen in the following years.

"This question has come up several times," said Barakat. "We have not had a meeting with ESPN yet about the future of the Challenge. There are several issues that need to be approached before we go any further with this thing."

The first issue Barakat to which referred is the question of whether or not ESPN wants to continue with the Challenge. Plans are already on the table for a SEC/Big 12 Challenge similar to the ACC/Big Ten event, and ESPN is currently evaluating broadcasting schedules for 2004 to see which events are feasible.

But even if ESPN decides to continue with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Barakat said there is also an issue of whether or not the sports network has the television broadcast windows available to add two more games to the current nine-game setup. Barakat stated it would all depend on how ESPN approaches the negotiation table after the season.

As for the 2004 Challenge, it appears that Miami and Virginia Tech will not be a part of the event, even though they will be official members of the ACC at that time.

But what if ESPN found the necessary TV slots and approached the conferences about adding two more games on the last year of the contract?

"We wouldn't say no," said Barakat. "It would require more money from ESPN, but we would make it work. However, there really is no likelihood of that happening."

If by some chance, Miami and Virginia Tech are added to the mix next season, many speculate they would be matched up against the Big Ten's perennial bottom feeders, Northwestern and Penn State, who aren't necessarily pushovers anymore. That likely would give the Big Ten a more favorable matchup with the ACC, and possibly a better shot at winning the Challenge. But according to Barakat, the Big Ten may not be willing to expand the event to 11 games.

"I can't speak for the Big Ten, but I think they enjoy the opportunity to rotate teams in and out of the Challenge," he said. "I know some schools have had commitments for scheduling purposes, and that would be something we would have to look into, as well."

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