Marquee programs to meet early

Updated: December 8, 2010, 10:36 AM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Men's college basketball has struggled to tip off its season with any fanfare in the midst of November football.

To combat that, four of the sport's top programs -- Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas -- have committed to create the Champions Classic, an early season marquee event debuting in 2011 and televised by ESPN.

The first Champions Classic is set for Madison Square Garden in New York, with Duke facing Michigan State and Kentucky meeting Kansas on Nov. 15, 2011.

Year 2 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta will see Michigan State vs. Kansas and Duke vs. Kentucky on Nov. 13, 2012. The third event, Nov. 12, 2013 at the United Center in Chicago, will have Michigan State playing Kentucky and Kansas playing Duke.

"I'm ecstatic about it because for our program it's probably bigger than all the others," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who won the national championship in 2000 and has been to six Final Fours with the Spartans. "We're maybe the team that has come on in the last 10 years while the others have been there for 50. It's an honor and a privilege. It really will bring a lot of attention for basketball."

Izzo, whose team was humbled by Syracuse Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic in New York, said that agreeing to play in the Champions Classic was "phenomenal and hopefully we'll play better than we did [Tuesday]."

Izzo said college basketball has been lacking something of this nature. He said he committed to the concept as soon as he received the phone call. Izzo said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had no qualms, either. Izzo said he called Kentucky coach John Calipari to make sure he was on board; Kentucky committed in the fall.

Krzyzewski is going for his fifth national title in April after winning his fourth earlier this year. Calipari reached the national title game while at Memphis and coached Kentucky to the Elite Eight last March.

Kansas coach Bill Self won the national title in 2008 while at Kansas, beating Calipari's Memphis Tigers.

"I thought it was a great idea and I think it's great playing on neutral sites," said Self after the Jayhawks beat Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday. "To come back to Madison Square Garden will be great with three other unbelievable programs. I'll bet each of these programs will sell whatever ticket allotment they have -- 4 to 5,000."

Self noted that Kansas and Duke will head from the game in New York next season to the loaded Maui Invitational that includes Tennessee, Memphis, UCLA, Georgetown, Michigan and host Chaminade.

"I hope we have a good recruiting class in the spring because that week certainly will be as good as it will be for us all year long," Self said.

Self said that Kansas has played home-and-home series with Michigan State and Kentucky, but said it's hard for big-time schools to play true home-and-home series because of pressures to play home games.

"You schedule what's best for your program and there are a lot of reasons -- recruiting, exposure and money. Sometimes you can't play too many road games due to money," Self said. "It's hard to go home-and-home with Duke. It's hard to do that with Kentucky or Michigan State. That's why this neutral site is a good deal. I don't think any of the coaches involved will see anything negative with this."

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com