Illini to Compete in Inaugural BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge

Illinois Will Face Notre Dame, West Virginia and Iowa in Event's First Year

Dan Hartleb and the Fighting Illini will face Notre Dame, West Virginia and Iowa in the first BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge, Feb. 20-22, in Clearwater/St. Petersburg, Fla.

Dan Hartleb and the Fighting Illini will face Notre Dame, West Virginia and Iowa in the first BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge, Feb. 20-22, in Clearwater/St. Petersburg, Fla.

Sept. 8, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Two of the nation's most prominent collegiate athletic conferences have come to an agreement to participate in a unique and ground-breaking season-opening baseball tournament in Florida. The inaugural BIG EAST/Big Ten Baseball Challenge, hosted by the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission, will feature 27 games February 20-22, 2009, at various spring training venues in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area, API Marketing announced today.

All 10 of the Big Ten's baseball-playing institutions will compete in the inaugural event, as will eight BIG EAST representatives. South Florida, Connecticut, Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall, West Virginia, Cincinnati and Notre Dame will represent the Big East. The Fighting Illini will face Iowa on the event's first day, Feb. 20, as the teams do not face each other in a Big Ten series this season. Illinois will then play Notre Dame on Feb. 21 and will wrap up the event against West Virginia on Feb. 22. It will be the first time the Illini have played Notre Dame since 2001, which also is the year that Illinois last faced the Mountaineers.

"The Big Ten Conference is excited to announce the creation of the BIG EAST/Big Ten Baseball Challenge beginning with the 2009 season," said Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany. "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. We look forward to some exciting and competitive games between two conferences with rich baseball traditions."

Added BIG EAST Commissioner Michael Tranghese: "This is a cutting-edge concept for Division I baseball. 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."

The BIG EAST/Big Ten Baseball Challenge will be similar in format to the popular conference collegiate basketball challenges that have emerged during the past decade, with participating teams competing against schools from the opposing conference. However, this tournament is unique in that it provides teams from two northern-based conferences with an opportunity to travel to Florida and compete against one another in outstanding, professional-quality venues located in a warm climate.

The tournament is scheduled for the same week that major league pitchers and catchers report to spring training, which will add to the buzz surrounding the event. Games will be played in the various major league spring training venues in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area, including Bright House Field, Knology Park and Progress Energy Park/Al Lang Field, with marquee matchups scheduled as part of nightly doubleheaders. There will be eight inter-conference contests daily, with the two extra Big Ten teams competing against each other in non-league games.

"The BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge is exciting for so many reasons," said Scott Lowe, President and CEO of API Marketing, which will be managing the event. "Any time that you can get schools from two nationally recognized conferences to compete in any sport in Florida, you've got a great product to sell. BIG EAST and Big Ten institutions have a tremendous following and alumni base in Florida. We are planning on promoting this locally as a celebration of the beginning of spring baseball in Florida, and with some of the nation's top-ranked beaches nearby, we feel like it will be an enticing weekend getaway opportunity for those alums enduring the cold weather in other parts of the country."

The St. Petersburg/Clearwater area is home to some of America's award-winning beaches. Caladesi Beach has been voted the nation's top-rated beach for 2008, and Fort De Soto Park received similar recognition in 2005. The area offers 35 miles of white-sand beaches on eight major barrier islands and is within minutes of many popular Florida attractions.

"The St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission is proud to host this significant college baseball event," said Kevin Smith, Director of the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission. "We have hosted many great events from the grassroots level to the professional level, however, with the BIG EAST/Big Ten Baseball Challenge, BIG EAST Baseball Championship and our regular recruitment of college baseball teams to travel to our area for spring training, we will not only get an opportunity to highlight our award-winning beaches, but also host a fantastic event that our partners in the BIG EAST and Big Ten conferences will most certainly enjoy."

The tournament pairings can be found below. For more information, please call 443-690-8946 or send an email to Sites and game times will be announced at a later date.


Day 1 - Friday, February 20
Ohio State vs. Notre Dame
Penn State vs. St. John's
Illinois vs. Iowa
Michigan State vs. Connecticut
Michigan vs. South Florida
Northwestern vs. Georgetown
Minnesota vs. Seton Hall
Indiana vs. West Virginia
Purdue vs. Cincinnati

Day 2 - Saturday, February 21
Michigan vs. Cincinnati
Purdue vs. South Florida
Penn State vs. Northwestern
Ohio State vs. Connecticut
Indiana vs. Georgetown
Illinois vs. Notre Dame
Minnesota vs. West Virginia
Michigan State vs. Seton Hall
Iowa vs. St. John's

Day 3 - Sunday, February 22
Michigan vs. St. John's
Ohio State vs. Cincinnati
Minnesota vs. Michigan State
Northwestern vs. Connecticut
Indiana vs. South Florida
Iowa vs. Georgetown
Purdue vs. Notre Dame
Penn State vs. Seton Hall
Illinois vs. West Virginia

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