Gonzaga basketball may play in the WCC, but it is certainly one of the best programs in the country. Now, the Bulldogs could be taking a step up in conference.
On the court, Gonzaga hasn’t really felt the negative affects of playing in what is a pretty weak league, beyond the top two or three schools. Just last season, the Bulldogs pulled a No. 1 seed and made a run to the national championship.
When the Bulldogs are good, the selection committee knows it, and a deflated RPI due to the WCC also-rans don’t hold Gonzaga back from crashing the big dance. The team hasn’t missed the tournament since 1998, a few years before Mark Few took over as head coach.
The weakness of the rest of the league, outside of BYU, St. Mary’s, and the occasional other program, does hurt Gonzaga’s wallet though. Because conferences split the money earned by teams in the tournament, the Bulldogs are making a bunch of schools that don’t pull their weight a lot of money.
After last year’s title game run, it is a growing concern for the school. From The San Diego Union-Tribune:
It is an open secret that Gonzaga has become increasingly frustrated in the WCC, in a sense subsidizing the rest of the conference with financial shares from its 19 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament (last year’s trip to the Final Four fetched $8.55 million). It is the WCC’s largest source of revenue and typically is split evenly among conference members, meaning bottom-feeders get the same cut as the team that earns them.
Now, another league could be making pretty open overtures to Gonzaga basketball.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson has confirmed that the league is considering expansion, and that Gonzaga is on the list. From the Union-Tribune report:
“Since August,” Thompson said, “I have spoken to six university presidents and/or athletic directors that have called inquiring about whether we are going to expand, and the Zags are one of them.
The Mountain West currently has 11 main members, all of whom play men’s basketball and football. Gonzaga obviously doesn’t have a Division I football team to bring to the table, so an exception would have to be made.
The Bulldogs basketball brand is so strong that it would probably be worth it though. And Hawaii is in the league as a football-only affiliate member, so there is a bit of precedent there.
Interestingly, the Union-Tribune article also mentions BYU as a potential basketball addition. BYU had previously been a full member of the MWC.
Gonzaga might not be alone, either. Thompson said BYU was not among the other schools that have contacted him about expansion, but several sources indicated that BYU — which went independent in football in 2011 and plays in the WCC in most other sports — would consider a return to the Mountain West at least in basketball if Gonzaga joins.
Adding the Gonzaga basketball and BYU to a league with some strong programs like UNLV, New Mexico, and San Diego State would make the Mountain West pretty imposing, as far as mid-majors go. It would also be fun to see Gonzaga playing some prominent games against non-BYU and St. Mary’s teams between late-December and the NCAA Tournament.