Gonzaga Threw Its Weight Around To Get What It Wanted
The Bulldogs knew exactly what they were doing.
Was this the plan all along?
The Mountain West was trying to land a unicorn in the name of the Gonzaga Bulldogs basketball program, but that seems to be on life support.
“For next season, it doesn’t look promising,” Commissioner Craig Thompson told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I’d put it like this: Today is today, none of us can predict tomorrow.”
One thing we do know is that Gonzaga has had unprecedented success in the West Coast Conference over the past 20 years which include an NCAA Tournament appearance each year, multiple Sweet 16 berths, a No. 1 seed and also a national title game showing in 2017.
Basically, they have achieved everything they possibly could in a non-power league. Their seed might suffer ever so slightly by being in a league which was 13th in RPI this past year and struggles to crack the top 10.
Maybe the Bulldogs did not want to leave at all, and that is a real possibility.
The Zags would lose all of its NCAA Tournament credits if it were to go to the Mountain West for 2018-19 and that amount is a whopping $7 million.
The news about Gonzaga and the Mountain West became public when Thompson told the San Diego Union-Tribune they were talking to the mid-major power.
“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.”
Going public like this put the ball back in the court of the WCC to try to keep Gonzaga around. Also, it is very likely that university was in talks to see if something could be done to stay.
The league did make adjustments which were clearly an attempt to keep Gonzaga.
Those changes included lowering the number of conference games from 18 to 16 which is an immediate change, and the matchups will be decided on criteria likely meaning the top teams play the top teams twice while avoiding the bottom level RPI teams.
In addition, the Conference must approve all “guarantee” games in which a WCC member is paid by an opponent to play at the opponent’s venue. Also, each team must play in some multi-team event every year.
Also, Gonzaga would be given a larger share of the tournament credits — ya know more cash in their pocket.
Also, there is this very strange adjustment is the triple-bye in the conference tournament for the top two seeds. For reference, the last time Gonzga was not a No. 1 or 2 seed one has to go all the way back to the pre-Few days and the 1996-97 season where the Zags finished fifth in the regular season.
Gonzaga basically gets everything it wanted outside of having a consistently tougher league schedule, and that is something the Bulldogs have shown to not need as they have earned top-four NCAA Tournament seeds eight times in the past 20 years and two of those were a No. 1 seed.
What this change to the schedule does is allow Gonzaga to play bad WCC teams more often. Two fewer games mean if this was in place last year the Zags probably would not have had to play Pepperdine or Portland two times and those schools RPI’s were 313 and 285. That opens up two slots for the Bulldogs to play better teams in the regular season and to offset those games there is no real need to go out and play a top 25 RPI team, it would be nice, but basically playing a top-100 team would help its advanced numbers.
Also, what would help would be only playing two WCC tournament games instead of three. This past year the Zags played Loyola Marymount in its first game and their RPI was 258. Gonzaga went on to play San Francisco which was not awful but a 133 RPI and then the title game play BYU who had a 69 RPI rating.
That is three fewer games of sub-250 teams and a chance to replace two of those with very likely top-100 teams. Also, if the rest of the league schedules up even 15 RPI spots per school could help a lot out.
It all comes back to money and also exposure — there was some hesitation of moving a chunk of games from an ESPN channel to CBS Sports Network by going to the Mountain West.
Gonzaga will get more of the WCC tournament shares, which the Bulldogs earn on their own nearly every year, there is basically a $7 million penalty for leaving to the Mountain West now and the chance to play a few better teams.
These changes will allow Gonzaga to see if its fellow league mates do schedule up and if the scheduling adjustments really do help the RPI of the league and the Zags themselves. During that time, whatever it may be, will allow Gonzaga to actually earn the money they get from past tournament success as those credits are paid out over a rolling six-year period.
The Zags had all the leverage and used it the best way they could to keep its hoops program humming along, and you can’t blame them one bit.