Big East founder and basketball Hall of Famer Dave Gavitt long lamented that college basketball season enjoyed a celebratory conclusion, the Final Four, but lacked an emphatic beginning.
"He looked at Opening Day in baseball as special," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said of Gavitt, who passed away in 2011. "He thought we could do much better."
On Monday, the Big East and Big Ten will announce the formation of the Dave Gavitt Tipoff Games, a four-day, eight-game season-opening challenge between the conferences beginning in 2015-16. The event will take place each November from Tuesday through Friday of the first full week of the season.
The parties will announce an eight-year deal at a news conference in New York. ESPN and the Big Ten Network and Fox Sports 1, the Big East's partner, will televise games at the respective league's home venues. Each will host four games.
"We wanted to do something to pay tribute to Dave. The geographic affinity between our two conferences made it a natural to synch up," said Big East commissioner Val Ackerman. "These [conference] challenges are not uncommon. We want to do something unique, by launching the season with a challenge."
The new Big East, which launched last fall with seven defectors from the existing league (now the American Athletic Conference) plus newcomers Xavier, Creighton and Butler, overlapped significantly with the Big Ten even before that conference's pending addition of Rutgers and Maryland. Seven of the 10 schools reside in the same state as a Big Ten member, and Georgetown and Maryland are virtual neighbors. Some, like Wisconsin-Marquette and Creighton-Nebraska, already play each other annually.
The Gavitt Tipoff Games could include more potential in-state matchups like Ohio State-Xavier or Indiana-Butler, but much like the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, games will be determined primarily by the strength of the teams.
"Many schools choose to kind of ease into the season with their choice of opponents," said Ackerman. "This one will really force our schools and coaches to get ready really quickly because there will be some tough matchups."
For the Big Ten, a challenge with the Big East fits with its increasing push for visibility in the Northeast. With Rutgers and Maryland joining July 1, the Chicago-based conference is opening a second office in New York City. It begins a partnership this football season with the Pinstripe Bowl, played at Yankee Stadium, and has added John Hopkins as an affiliate member in men's lacrosse.
Both Delany and Ackerman had longstanding relationships with Gavitt, who served as a mentor to Delany during his time as commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference in the '80s. He said their families vacationed together in Cape Cod. Gavitt was heavily involved in USA Basketball, including a stint as president from 1988 to '92 in which he helped initiate the first Dream Team. Ackerman, president of the WNBA from 1996 to 2005, became president of USA Basketball from '05-08, with Delany serving as vice president from 2000-08.
Both Delany and Ackerman believe he would have appreciated their new concept.
"His spirit of creativity and collaboration was always pretty powerful," said Delany. "I really think this is an idea that was very much in line with his vision and he would approve."