The Mountain West should invest in its basketball infrastructure.
With conference realignment season comes a whole slew of reports, rumors, and hopes of change for the better. The first wave was Texas and Oklahoma upgrading to the SEC. The second wave looks like it will be four mid-major teams upgrading to the big 12.
Among those four teams is BYU. BYU has been a top 3 basketball team in the WCC for about a decade and has been a top 20 team both years under Mark Pope. Of the teams in the WCC, BYU has had the best chance of being the robin to the Batman that is Gonzaga.
With BYU leaving, Gonzaga is still a huge fish, but in a smaller pond. The Mountain West really needs to reach out and try to recruit Gonzaga, and Gonzaga should seriously consider making the move.
How it benefits the Mountain West:
First off, any conference in the nation would benefit from adding Gonzaga. The Zags have been a top 5 program over the last decade. The only accomplishment they have left to achieve is winning a championship. They’re one of 5 teams to play in two championship games in the last decade though, so the safe money is that they’ll get there.
I did a thing. Blueblood rankings. The most successful teams over the last 10 years, combining regular season success with tournament success.— Aztec Breakdown (@aztecbreakdown) September 7, 2021
Trivia time: 2 non-P6 schools made the top 25, which schools are they?
Bonus: Where does San Diego State rank? pic.twitter.com/TOgJsQOkNt
Adding a team of that stature will add a lot of national eyeballs to the conference, increasing media deals for basketball. It also increases the SOS for all the current teams, and by extension makes a 20 game season more palatable for programs that are opposed to it (SDSU, UNLV.)
There are also some really creative ways to do a 20 game schedule that work out best with 12 teams (ex. 16 games plus 4 game round robin among top 5 teams to end the regular season).
There’s also the additional money they’ll get from March madness units. Every game a team plays in the tournament earns a unit for the conference. Each unit is worth roughly $300,000 each year for the next 6 years. So playing in a single game will earn a conference between $1.5-$1.8 million over the next 6 years (when accounting for rounding and inflation.)
Gonzaga makes a sweet 16 every year, so that alone would be in the range of an extra $4-$5 million the conference would earn each year. That money would then get distributed across the teams of the conference.
So in summary, the Mountain West would get more revenue, more prestige, and more national relevance by adding Gonzaga.
How it benefits Gonzaga:
Admittedly, the move doesn’t benefit Gonzaga as much as it benefits the Mountain West. It still benefits them though.
With BYU leaving their supporting cast in the conference is basically St. Mary’s. That’s it. St. Mary’s will make a tournament once every 2-3 years (5 appearances in the last 10 years if the cancelled 2020 tournament is counted).
The Mountain West has a better supporting cast, and has for awhile. The WCC is generally seen as a better conference, but that’s solely because of Gonzaga’s presence. Remove Gonzaga and the Mountain West had equal or better rankings going down the line.
This chart compares the top 5 non-Gonzaga WCC teams with the top 5 MW teams over the last 5 years, averaged out by year and by position. WCC numbers will be worse w/o BYU, and the MW already had a better group outside of Gonzaga to begin with. https://t.co/fQIxtdlsnO pic.twitter.com/qfLTxsWIUU— Aztec Breakdown (@aztecbreakdown) September 6, 2021
If you need more evidence, the Mountain West gets two teams into the tournament most years already. The WCC does too, but one of those teams is often BYU (5 of the last 10 tournaments), who is leaving, and the other is Gonzaga, who would get in every year no matter what conference they were in. Adding Gonzaga to the MW makes them a 3-4 team conference every year. So making the move would ultimately result in Gonzaga playing in a tougher conference with a better reputation.
Playing in a better conference against better competition likely results in a better media deal for them, so there’s more money on the front end. There’s also the March madness units to consider. Gonzaga will likely have the same amount of tournament success no matter what conference they’re in. So the number of units they earn for their conference won’t change. In the WCC though, they’ll often be the only team playing. In the MW, there will be 2-3 other teams playing. Even if none of those other teams win, them simply making the tournament would result in an extra $3-$5 million, and Gonzaga would receive a good chunk of that. A chunk that wouldn’t be available in the WCC.
The biggest downside of a move for Gonzaga is that they’ll lose the units they earned for the WCC. They’ve had two championship runs in the last few years, so that’s a lot of money to give up. That money would likely be offset over the next five or so years, and then Gonzaga would find itself with additional revenue. That’s a tough call to make though.
There are creative ways to try and offset the short term loss faster, such as a sliding scale for revenue earned based on tournament success. Overall though, it would still be a short term loss for a long term gain.
Without BYU, the WCC is a conference of Gonzaga and not much else. Gonzaga should seriously consider leaving for greener pastures. Objectively, if a P6 conference calls they should move in a heart beat. Between geography, religious affiliation, and lack of a football team, that doesn’t seem likely. The Mountain West is likely their best bet at the moment. Considering how high Gonzaga props up the rest of the WCC, it’s feasible that the MW becomes a top 6 or 7 basketball conference each year. The long term result is increased revenue and prestige for all involved.
Gonzaga joining the MW would benefit everyone involved, so Craig Thompson needs to make sure it happens this time. It’s too good an opportunity to pass up.