Most college basketball fans are aware of the ACC/Big Ten challenge. The two conference face off in both women’s and men’s basketball, a final tally is recorded, and a winner named. The winning conference gets bragging rights. Competition for the sake of competition, or what I like to think what college sports should be all about. Of course ESPN is partners in this, so money is made.
As I have written before, the Sun Belt makes a perfect natural rival for the MAC. They are similar in size and stature. They have a lot of similar bowl tie-ins as well. One aspect of the ACC-Big Ten challenge that I love is that natural rivalries form. For instance, Michigan State and Duke have formed a bit of a rivalry because they play so often in the challenge. These same sorts of rivalries could also be formed out of the MAC and the Sun Belt. As a Toledo fan, I don’t just have to hate Bowling Green. I could easily find room in my cold, dead heart to hate Appalachian State, especially if we play contests in football and basketball most years.
I understand logistics would be an issue, as would funds. There are possible workarounds. One would be a host city. For example, Columbus could host all the contests one year, while Atlanta hosts the following year. There could be deals arranged with local hotels. Maybe even tie in a media day with the local convention center. Along with the two basketball games for each school, there could be other competitions. Maybe a blood drive. Involve the students with competitions, like a robot building event, where winner is named at halftime of a game. Especially important would be an alumni contest. Or many. There could be an alumni band one, a “retired” basketball game between former players, either a conference all star one or a per team. The possibilities are endless. The plan would be simple. Create an event atmosphere.
This would bring fans, students, and alumni back into the fold, while also being fun. And that is really what college sports, and life for that matter, is all about.