Is the SEC eyeing a women’s basketball challenge with the ACC over the Big 12?

Andy Wittry

Last month, University of Texas Executive Sr. Associate AD/Chief of Staff Christine Plonsky wrote to Texas Director of Athletics Chris Del Conte and women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer, “Sounds like SEC is wanting to eliminate future Big 12-SEC wbb challenges and instead create one with ACC. Marginalization.”

I obtained the email through a public records request and it probably makes more sense now, thanks to recent events in the larger context of college athletics, compared to when it was sent.

Plonsky sent that email on July 16 – five days before the Houston Chronicle broke the news about Oklahoma and Texas’ interest in joining the SEC.

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Andy Wittry

When Del Conte asked Plonsky when the SEC wanted to end its women’s basketball series with the Big 12, Plonsky wrote back, “This coming year will be final year for B12-SeC.”

An SEC spokesperson said the 2021-22 season is the last year of the current agreement for the women’s basketball challenge with the Big 12 but that no decisions have been made at this time.

A Big 12 spokesperson said he’s not aware of anything being officially communicated regarding the future of the challenge. An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment.

The women’s basketball SEC/Big 12 Challenge started in 2014 and ESPN televises games in the Challenge through its television contracts with the two conferences, including 2020 matchups such as Texas-Texas A&M (ESPN) and Arkansas-Baylor (ESPN2). Other matchups aired on the SEC Network or ESPN+.

ESPN owns both the ACC Network and SEC Network.

Any decisions made regarding the women’s challenge wouldn’t necessarily affect the men’s challenge and it’s expected that the men’s challenge will continue.

It’s hard not to view the SEC’s reported interest in ending its annual women’s basketball challenge with the Big 12 in favor of one with the ACC as a potential corollary to Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC. Not only did the SEC extend invitations to the two Big 12 members with the biggest brands but the SEC is also reportedly going to end (or perhaps technically, not renew) its annual women’s basketball series with the Big 12 in favor of one with another Power 5 conference – coincidentally or not, a conference that also has an ESPN-owned conference network.

It remains to be seen whether the SEC’s reported interest in moving on from the SEC/Big 12 Challenge in women’s basketball is directly tied to Oklahoma and Texas’ defections from Big 12 or if it’s simply part of a larger strategy by the SEC that includes exerting greater control over the composition of its membership, its future scheduling and its media rights.

In the words of Texas Chief of Staff Plonsky, whose employer has since agreed to leave the Big 12 for the SEC: “Marginalization.”

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I publish original, enterprise reporting about college athletics that focuses on off-the-field topics, such as name, image and likeness rights and the financial side of athletics, from a public records and data-based reporting lens. My work has been published by Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, Stadium, NCAA.com, the IndyStar and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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