Have the Zags finally outgrown the West Coast Conference?
Is the Mountain West going to land Gonzaga?
Gonzaga coach Mark Few spoke with Doug Gottlieb of Fox Sports Radio to discuss all things Gonzaga. Topics ranged from Gonzaga’s recent success, talks of conference realignment, and the player payment scandal.
Where do the negotiations currently stand?
Few was asked about how he sees the current discussions between the Mountain West and Gonzaga. He sounded annoyed that the story was leaked but explained that it’s not the first time Gonzaga has looked at different opportunities. He did say, “we think we’ve been fair and more than equitable partners in the situation we are still in” before expressing gratitude for the WCC in providing a place for them to build their program.
Listen to the interview @GottliebShow had with HC Mark Few of @ZagMBB (Gonzaga Men’s B-Ball) They talked about the upcoming NCAA Tournament plus their history of success as Gonzaga is poised to make their 20th straight appearance at the Big Dance. #GoZags https://t.co/nnPi7b5e8J
— FOX Sports Radio (@FoxSportsRadio) March 9, 2018
Gottlieb followed up with a question that asked what the logic would be behind a switch to the MW since the geographic footprint would be similar to the WCC. Few’s main points were competition level, financial considerations and being with like-minded institutions.
Level of play
Few discussed a desire to still have the chance to make the NCAA tournament in years where they don’t handle business like they usually do. He admitted that they haven’t had those situations happen yet but he wants to be prepared if that were to happen and joining the Mountain West would create a bigger platform for Gonzaga and the conference.
You don’t have to look much further than this season and conference rival St. Mary’s (28-5) for an example of how close to perfect you need to be to make the tourney as an at-large from a mid-major. A conference slate that shrinks the number of games against 200+ RPI ranking schools provides more opportunity for quality wins and lowers the damage that a loss in a poor conference can cause. The MW current ranks 9th in RPI and would make a substantial jump towards the AAC and their 7th place ranking. The WCC currently ranks 13th and would drop if Gonzaga were to leave.
He briefly mentions financial implications by differing to his athletic director. This is a grey area because nobody knows exactly what all of the numbers are. ESPN has deals with both the MW and the WCC which expire soon. The deal with the Mountain West is because of the depth and talent of the league, ESPN has a deal with the West Coast Conference for Gonzaga. Mark Ziegler of the San Diego Union-Tribune has been on top of this story and reports that an equal share of the television money for a basketball-only school on the current contract would be about $300,000. It’s likely that they would get a better deal, somewhat similar to what Boise has for their football program.
NCAA tournament shares from making and winning games in the dance are also important to look at. A unit is gained when a team makes the tournament and more can be earned with victories in the dance. Gonzaga would be giving away all of the shares they have earned to leave to a conference with more members and fewer shares. In the long term, it would probably pay off but it would be a costly sacrifice in the short term.
The last comment Few made about Gonzaga’s logic to move was being with like-minded institutions. He believes that there will be major changes coming and he wants his program to be in the best possible situation for that. He mentioned that schools might have to start supplementing scholarships. My interpretation is that he wants to be in a conference that values athletics and is willing to show it with financial commitments. The WCC is a faith-based conference but Gonzaga and BYU are outliers in the way they invest in athletics. There is undoubtedly more money put into Mountain West sports.
For now, we know that the Mountain West presidents are planning to meet in early April to discuss and likely invite Gonzaga into the conference. Other than the Big 12 debacle, these things usually don’t get leaked unless some kind of deal is in place as neither side would want to look desperate or risk the embarrassment of public rejection. It’s possible that this is all a ploy for Gonzaga to get more money out of the WCC but I think the Zags are ready to move on.