The first thought
In truth, every single one of the 20 participating coaches in either league couldn’t hate the timing more.
Right in the middle of conference play, coaches do not want anything to break up the familiarity that comes with league play, and then ESPN gets the idea to move this Challenge to the end of January.
“Everybody — SEC coaches, Big 12 coaches— are focused on our league season,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Stepping outside of league at this time, although it’s great for our league from an exposure standpoint, I don’t know the coaches are crazy about it.”
The exposure part is worth mentioning, WVU head coach Bob Huggins said, there are no college football bowl games right now, and no ACC-Big Ten Challenge to compete with.
And so, since the teams in the SEC — and not just Florida and Kentucky — are more nationally competitive, this Big 12-SEC deal suddenly got a little interesting, and maybe it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the whole picture.
There are still major questions for future Challenges, starting with Kansas and Kentucky.
Both schools simply played each other during the 2015-’16 and 2016-’17 Challenges, which makes for great anticipation, but sort of leaves everyone else hanging in the wind.
Huggins said league coaches voiced concerns to Big 12 officials that there should be a little more variety in the Challenge’s scheduling.
It worked out this season, because Kansas and Kentucky were already scheduled to duel each other in the Champions Classic, in November.
What if that weren’t the case and what happens next season if the two schools aren’t scheduled to play in the Champions Classic, which they likely will not?
“I don’t think they want Kansas playing Kentucky in every one,” Huggins said.
Wish I could believe that.
Kentucky traveling to Morgantown for the first time since 1970 was huge. It would also be a big deal if Kentucky traveled to Oklahoma or Kansas State or pick anyone but Kansas in the Big 12, or to have any other Big 12 school travel to Lexington, Ky.
But, exactly how many schools could match up with the Wildcats and still draw decent TV ratings?
Kentucky head coach John Calipari “and I against each other is good TV,” Huggins said. “That’s what [ESPN] is trying to do. They’re trying to get people to turn on their television sets.”
And if this thing becomes solely about ratings, then don’t expect much variety.
As far as WVU goes, Huggins hinted that another WVU-Kentucky game might happen soon.
“West Virginia and Kentucky has a whole lot more luster than pretty much anybody else you could put out there right now between the two leagues.
“I guess they could sell us playing Frank (Martin, head coach of South Carolina and a former Huggins’ assistant), because of our relationship, but that’s not as easy a sell as this is.”
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