FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas’ basketball team is one of eight selected to participate in the inaugural The ESPNU Classic, a three-day, eight-team event held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla.
The tournament includes four games a day on Nov. 23, 24 and 26.
Joining the Razorbacks in the field are Minnesota, Montana, Virginia Tech, Southern Illinois, West Virginia, Marist and Western Michigan. All games will be televised with ESPN2 airing nine games and ESPNU three.
“With the change in the schedule rule this year, we were able to become a part of an outstanding tournament near Orlando,” UA head coach Stan Heath says. “We are very excited about the competition and the exposure, as well as the opportunity to play in a tournament that will help prepare us for the season.”
ESPN Regional Television (ERT), a subsidiary of ESPN, Inc., will own and operate The ESPNU Classic, a 12-game tournament to be played over three days Thanksgiving weekend. The announcement was made by Pete Derzis, senior vice president and general manager, ESPN Regional Television, and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Commissioner Rich Ensor. The MAAC will serve as the sponsoring conference of the event.
The tournament will feature four games on each day with each team playing daily. The two undefeated teams will face off in a championship match on the final day of competition while the remaining teams will play in consolation games. Team pairings and game times will be determined on a later date.
Arkansas, Minnesota, Montana, Southern Illinois and West Virginia all played in either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT last year. Montana won the Big Sky Conference and SIU the Missouri Valley. Other conferences represented include the Big Ten (Minnesota), ACC (Virginia Tech), Big East (West Virginia), Mid-American (Western Michigan) and the Metro Atlantic Athletic (Marist).
In 2005, the Razorbacks went 22-10 with their most wins since 1999 and made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001. UA tied for second in the SEC’s Western Division, beat two top 10-ranked teams and had the best home record in the SEC at 15-1. Under Heath, Arkansas has gone from nine wins in 2003 to 12 in 2004, to 18 in 2005 and to 22 in 2006.
“There are some outstanding teams in this tournament,” Heath says. “The field is very competitive. It will give us a gauge of where we are early in the season and give us a chance to vie for a tournament championship.”
ESPN Regional Television owns and operates three other basketball events — the O’Reilly Auto Parts All-College Classic, Papé Jam and the Spartan Clash.
“We are excited to add this new event, which will showcase a great field of teams competing at an outstanding facility,” Derzis said. “Fans will have an opportunity to spend the Thanksgiving weekend watching quality college basketball and enjoying all the wonderful Disney attractions and the Orlando community.”
ESPN Regional Television will be responsible for The ESPNU Classic’s organization, operation, sponsorship, marketing efforts and more. Under the direction of ESPN Regional Television, Disney’s Wide World of Sports will provide
marketing, management and game day operations support for The ESPNU Classic. Additional details, including sponsorship, are to be finalized.
Ensor added, "The MAAC has a long association with hosting championships at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando and it is pleased to sponsor The ESPNU Classic at the complex. The MAAC’s individual alliances with Disney Sports and ESPN are much valued and this new venture will televise some of the best of men’s collegiate basketball in the country’s premier sports venue."
Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex is the No. 1 venue for amateur and professional sporting events in the country and hosts more than 170 sporting events each year, including the Tampa Bay Bucs training camp, the Atlanta Braves spring training, the NBA Pre-Draft Camp, the Pop Warner Super Bowl and several AAU National Championships. The 220-acre state-of-the-art facility houses a 9,500-seat ballpark, a 5,000-seat fieldhouse, several multi-purpose playing fields, a track and field arena, a tennis stadium, an expansive weight room and office space.
"This new tournament only adds to the long list of premium, nationally-recognized sports events taking place at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex,” said Reggie Williams, Vice President of Disney Sports Attractions. "With the tremendous exposure of ESPN Regional and the unique event management expertise that Disney is known for, there is every reason to believe that this tournament will quickly develop a rich tradition and a distinctive presence within the landscape of major men’s college basketball.”
Tickets for The ESPNU Classic will be available to the general public in August at Ticketmaster outlets and Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex box office. In July, special travel packages will be available for fans of the participating teams coming to the Orlando area for the event.
ESPN Regional Television (ERT) is the nation’s largest syndicator of collegiate sports programming. ERT produces more than 900 sporting events annually, including football, basketball, NCAA events, golf and NHRA events, which accounts for more than 2,200 live and/or original hours of programming. In addition to event ownership, ERT is the production headquarters for ESPNU, the 24-hour college sports network; syndication rights holder and producer of national, regional and local shows for college conferences (e.g. – Big Ten, BIG EAST and the Big 12); as well as the marketing rights holder for select schools (Kansas, Oregon and South Florida).
ESPN Regional Television markets and/or owns several other sporting events, in addition to college basketball games. Examples include the Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas Bowl, Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl, Fort Worth Bowl, New Mexico Bowl, Birmingham Bowl, Ford MEAC/SWAC Challenge, ESPNU Invitational Series presented by ConocoPhillips and the ESPN National Golf Challenge.