Brigham Young University’s (BYU) likely exit from the West Coast Conference (WCC) to the Big 12 will force membership changes at the West Coast Conference. Not only is BYU the conference’s second-best hoops program (behind Gonzaga, of course) but the Cougars have won eight consecutive WCC Commissioners Cup titles for all-around athletic success. Sound familiar? Denver rakes in the national Directors’Cup for all of Division I non-football schools on an annual basis.
The loss of BYU is a concern to flagship member Gonzaga University, the best mid-major basketball program in the country. Gonzaga needs BYU’s strong national ranking (RPI) in the conference to bolster their national hoops aspirations. There is a risk, slight as it may be, that the falling dominos may even mean the eventual exit of Gonzaga. They nearly bolted to the Mountain West several years ago. But frankly, the rest of the conference, outside of St. Mary’s, is much more like Denver with a focus on Olympic sports and struggling-to-middling basketball programs. Surely, if DU is to fill the open vacancy, fans need to look no further than new hoops coach Jeff Wulbrun to make DU hoops ‘presentable’ and not a competitive embarrassment. Yes, this story isn’t new but now more than ever, Denver needs to flex their hoops muscles.
As for the other sports, Pepperdine finished right behind Denver in Directors’ Cup standings this past academic year and their men’s golf team won the national title. Santa Clara women’s soccer won the national championship and a host of WCC teams were ranked at or above Denver in nearly all the sports DU sponsors. The only thing Denver has to lose is, possibly, the national Directors Cup title in a conference that values Olympic sports and is stronger top-to-bottom than the Summit League.
One should assume with one or two possible openings in the WCC, Denver will be on the shortlist along with former WCC member institution Seattle University. Gonzaga is said to be blocking SU from rejoining the conference to protect their interest in the state of Washington. Still, it’s hard to believe that four hours of separation would create enough reason to block the Redhawks from entry indefinitely. It is likely, however, that poor basketball programs have stifled both Seattle’s and Denver’s efforts to join the WCC in the past.
I know it’s worked well for us for all these years being in the WCC, but if BYU is gone, I really don’t see how staying is the best decision… I don’t know what the right move will be, but I feel pretty confident it’s not the WCC (unless they pull off a crazy expansion)
— Zag Talk Podcast (@ZagTalk) September 3, 2021
Seattle is a geographic outlier in the 13-team football-centric Western Athletic Conference (WAC). In an email obtained by Out of Bounds, “one WAC AD, citing a conversation with WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd, referenced administrators in the conference who have ‘the desire to eliminate a geographic outlier,’ in regards to the Seattle University.” Not only does Seattle not field a football team, but they are also nearly 900 miles away from their nearest conference competitor. Expect them to make a desperate run at WCC membership.
When BYU announces their acceptance of the Big 12’s invitation, the nine-member conference and their respective presidents will likely decide on adding a member to balance the conference. Should Gonzaga remain, they will have a large say in who enters the conference. In 2018, Gonzaga embarrassed Denver in a 101-40 basketball rout, their largest margin of victory in program history – after they called off the dogs in the second half. Denver must now show that they are serious about being competitive in basketball because the WCC brand includes basketball teams that perform above other mid-major conferences. Fortunately for Denver, Seattle can’t seem to get untracked on the basketball court either.
It’s worth hoping that Denver Vice Chancellor for Athletics and Recreation Karlton Creech is on the phone regularly with WCC commissioner Gloria Nevarez telling her that DU can chew gum and dribble at the same time. Denver likely has this academic year and basketball season until next summer to prove they are a serious candidate.