SEC vs. Big Ten Classic provides a new, fan-friendly format for men and women

The meet pits men and women from six teams on each conference’s team.

Matt Anderson

Out of the cancellation of the Gatorade Classic was born the SEC vs. Big Ten Classic.

But more than a different moniker, the track and field meet in Knoxville, Tenn., has an entirely new format.

The meet, which starts tonight and concludes Saturday, will pit a combined men’s and women’s team from the SEC against a combined men’s and women’s team from the Big Ten with a dual meet scoring system.

Minnesota’s men’s and women’s teams will both contribute to Big Ten’s squad, along with Wisconsin and Penn State. Tennessee, Kentucky and South Carolina are sending athletes for the SEC side.

“I think that it just changes the format a little bit when we go in,” Gophers men’s coach Phil Lundin said. “It makes it more interesting from a spectator standpoint. Also, I think that the conference pride changes the focus a little bit.”

Kentucky men’s and women’s coach Don Weber said that more than conference pride, the uniqueness of the event will be the freshest thing.

The fan interest Weber anticipates from the new format will help a sport in need of more fan interest, he said.

“We need to try and do whatever,” Weber said. “And if that includes new, innovative kinds of ways of attracting attention to it, we’re desperately in need of those kinds of things. I definitely think that it would have some appeal to the general public.”

The new set up, in addition to creating fan interest, also constructs two teams with contrasting strengths.

SEC teams are historically strong in sprinting and throwing, while the Big Ten excels in distance events. Minnesota women’s coach Gary Wilson said it will make for an intriguing storyline at the meet.

“I think you’re going to see them take a lot of the shorter events and maybe the 800,” Wilson said. “Then the rest of it will be – I don’t know if we’ll dominate, but we’ll really be in the hunt.”

Along with the new format, the meet also represents a step up in terms of the level of competition for the Gophers. The men’s side of the event features the 25th-ranked Gamecocks.

Decathlete Travis Brandstatter, who is staying home rest his sore hamstrings, said the quality of competition at the classic will be helpful to the Gophers.

“At least from my experience, playing with the big boys brings out more potential that you have,” he said. “I think it could help them do a lot better at that meet, which in turn would make them more prepared for the future.”

And with Tennessee and South Carolina – ranked first and second, respectively – on the women’s side, Wilson said the level of skill at the meet makes it vital to his team.

“This is going to be an ‘A’ level,” he said. “When you get an ‘A’ level meet, it just gets you into the mindset of you’ve got to be ready to roll.”