Mountain West Has Confirmed Talks With Gonzaga, Others On Joining Conference
Is Craig Thompsn figuring things out?
The Mountain West is looking to expand, again.
Perhaps Craig Thompson has heard his lesson from the Wichita State fiasco where he bypassed a great college basketball program just because they don’t play football.
This happened to pop up on our timeline about a week ago, for what it’s worth.
How things have changed. According to Mark Ziegler of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Craig Thompson said that he has been in contact with a half-dozen teams since August.
“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.
“I guess the adjective I’d use is exploratory. Truthfully, what we’re trying to do here is better ourselves and we’re trying to understand what are your goals and ambitions, and what are the Mountain West’s goals and ambitions. Is there something there? … But obviously, they would enhance our basketball enterprise.”
Yes, those Zags, as in the Gonzaga Bulldogs of the West Coast Conference, and national basketball powerhouse.
Good for Thompson for realizing while football drives the bus that bus needs some passengers so why not bring along a household name like Mark Few’s Gonzaga basketball team.
In Zeigler’s piece, he mentions that Gonzaga could be leaving the West Coast Conference and join the Mountain West as early as next season. With the Mountain West and West Coast Conference teams in Las Vegas for their respective conference tournaments, there are expected to be talks.
If the Bulldogs were to join the Mountain West for next year things would have to move very fast. Typically, there are rules which require at least a year’s notice, but as history, as taught regarding conference realignment deals can be had to get teams to move sooner rather than later.
None of the other five teams are specifically mentioned and Thompson does say that BYU is not one of them, which is a little odd. However, there are rumblings that the Cougars would follow the Bulldogs as a basketball-only member since BYU football is still making good money with its independent football deal.
Also, this seems to be on an elevated schedule not only because next year is on the table but also because Gonzaga head coach Mark Few is in the discussions on this.
The Bulldogs have achieved a lot while in the West Coast Conference including a No. 1 overall seed, a national championship appearance and has made it to the Sweet 16 or beyond seven times.
However, Few has been frustrated with the West Coast Conference and has stated on more than one occasion that the rest of the league needs to step up its game.
Gonzaga can already demand high-quality opponents on its schedule — something the Mountain West would love to have — but the league slate outside of St. Mary’s and BYU don’t offer great quality win chances. Neither the Gaels or Cougars can offer top-50 chances year in and year out. This year the WCC is 13th in league RPI which is not only behind the Mountain West which is at nine but they are behind the MAC and Colonial Athletic Association.
Getting into the Mountain West would provide a boost for both sides. It would give the Bulldogs better teams to play overall and help its tourney seeding, and the Mountain West would be a minimum two-bid league and very likely get back to three or even four. Remeber, there was a time that the Mountain West had FIVE teams in the NCAA Tournament.
The Mountain West has five teams in the top 100 compared to just three for the WCC and while yes this is cherry picking a bit but the Mountain West has eights teams with an RPI of 152 or better whereas the West Coast has five.
When the Mountain West is on all cylinders with New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV playing well that is when the league is at its best. Then include quality coaches like Eric Musselman, Leon Rice, Rodney Terry and Allen Edwards which have done good things for their teams. The Mountain West could very much so once again be the best non-power league, or even be considered a power league with Gonzaga.
However, is the league going to stop at just one team? Remember, Thomspon spoke with six total teams plus BYU could be interested in joining Gonzaga in the Mountain West.
As for who the other five teams could be it is basically a guessing game, but the teams that make sense are St. Mary’s (WCC), Grand Canyon University, (WAC), New Mexico State (WAC), Idaho (Big Sky) and Cal State Bakersfield (WAC). UTEP of Conference USA is always talked about but bringing in a 13th football member would make things messy.
One team would give the Mountain West a nice round number of 12 teams but if there is an option to get BYU back in the league in any capacity that should be done. That puts the league at an awkward 13 teams with Gonzaga and BYU.
Fourteen would be nice and the final spot should come down to St. Mary’s and Grand Canyon. The Gaels are a solid hoops team and maybe market size would play a role as they are already in the Northern California area near San Jose, but Grand Canyon is in Phoenix and has a boatload of money and is extremely invested in basketball.
Also, Jerry Colangelo has stated publicly he would like to be in the same league as BYU and Gonzaga.
Just don’t mess this up Craig Thompson.