The nation’s top two cold-weather conferences have devised a novel way to kick off the season. The inaugural Big East/Big Ten Baseball Challenge will feature 18 teams from the two leagues going head to head in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area in Florida.
Teams from the Northeast and upper Midwest have traditionally opened their seasons on Sun Belt road trips against teams that have been practicing outdoors for weeks and therefore have a major leg up. The Challenge will allow these cold-weather teams to open up in warm weather against opponents at the same stage of preparation for the season.
The inaugural Challenge will feature 27 games from Feb. 20-22 at various spring training venues in the Tampa Bay area. All 10 baseball-playing teams from the Big Ten will participate, as will eight teams from the Big East. Each day will feature eight inter-conference games, highlighted by nightly doubleheaders of marquee matchups. The two extra Big Ten teams will compete against each other in a non-league game.
"This is a cutting-edge concept for Division I baseball," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said in a statement. "It’s a terrific opportunity for our teams to play against great competition in a setting that’s conducive to high-level collegiate baseball. We’ve held our baseball championship in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area twice in the past three years, so we know that our teams are in for a wonderful experience."
It’s also a great opportunity for both conferences to market baseball to their fans and alumni–both in Florida and up North. A February vacation to Florida and the beautiful beaches of Clearwater would be alluring enough even without quality baseball to take in. The two conferences view this as a spring training of sorts, except with the added fervor of school and conference pride that major league spring training lacks. On top of that, fans and players will get to experience St. Petersburg’s Progress Energy Park/Al Lang Field (spring training home of the Rays), Clearwater’s Bright House Field (Phillies), and Dunedin’s Knology Park (Blue Jays).
"This season-opening event will provide a unique opportunity for Big Ten programs to compete in some of the country’s finest facilities in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney said in a statement. "We look forward to some exciting and competitive games between two conferences with rich baseball traditions."
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