Gonzaga shakes down West Coast Conference

Photo courtesy The Denver Post

In an 11th hour effort to keep their conference basketball titan, Gonzaga, the West Coast Conference capitulated to the demands of the Bulldog basketball program, ensuring the league will be dominated by the Zags in the future. The agreement keeps the Bulldogs from bolting to the Mountain West Conference – at least for the short term.

We wrote about Gonzaga’s interest in moving to the Mountain West Conference and how that might affect DU’s conference membership hopes and dreams here.

According to the the Spokesman Review, under the new arrangement the West Coast Conference, member teams will play fewer conference basketball games in a new, unbalanced schedule format (18 to 16 conference games) and allow conference teams that advance deeper in the NCAA Tournament (i.e. Gonzaga) to keep a larger portion of the revenue. Additionally,  The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Gonzaga also will receive $1 million per year in NCAA Tournament ‘back shares’ of prior NCAA payouts. Finally, the top two seeds for the West Coast basketball tournament will receive two conference tournament byes which, essentially, is a coronation for one of the top two seeds for an automatic berth to the NCAA basketball playoffs. All these moves are tailored to the desires of Gonzaga and will hardly make fellow conference members stronger from top to bottom.

“You look at what the West Coast Conference did to accommodate them,” Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson told the San Diego newspaper Saturday. “Congratulations, that’s a good deal for them. There are just some things in there that I don’t think our membership would have accepted.

The only move that potentially helps the conference is the move to an unbalanced schedule with two additional ‘open’ games to schedule out-of-conference tilts. Under new NCAA Tournament playoff criteria, strength of schedule is critically important so WCC members will be able to schedule more high-profile games against non-conference power basketball schools. However, most of the other moves are specifically crafted to the benefit of Gonzaga.

Even with all these concessions, neither the WCC commissioner nor the Mountain West commissioners would put the chances of a future union to sleep citing ‘crystal balls’ and the changing basketball landscapes.

This is hardly a long-term formula for ‘league balance’ in basketball going forward but at least for now, it means the WCC isn’t expanding and Denver is staying put in the Summit League.