How will adding BYU impact Gonzaga, rest of WCC?

If anyone suspects that other West Coast Conference programs are intimidated by adding a school whose enrollment, funding and facilities dwarf theirs, the league's coaches and administrators would like to put that notion to rest.

Gonzaga officials are excited about BYU joining the WCC because it elevates the league's profile and makes it more difficult for detractors to discount the achievement of winning the conference each season. And basketball coaches from the league's seven other schools believe the extra TV revenue and exposure generated by BYU will aid their quest to consistently compete with the league's two flagship programs in the long term.

"To be able to add a quality institution like BYU is what we've been looking for since the conference began talking about expansion," Portland coach Eric Reveno said. "I don't feel it makes our challenge any harder because Gonzaga's already in our league and we were already trying to catch Gonzaga. It's like we're in a 100-meter race and there's already one really fast guy in the race. Well, once we get as fast as him, if there's two really fast guys in the race, then it makes no difference."

The arrival of BYU instantly gives the WCC a chance to earn as many as three NCAA tourney berths each year, which puts them in select company among non-BCS conferences. In the past five seasons, the Mountain West, Atlantic 10 and Missouri Valley Conference are the only other non-BCS leagues to earn that many NCAA bids in a single season.

Whereas the WCC had studied the possibility of adding the likes of Seattle, Denver or Pacific for the past year without pulling the trigger, commissioner Jamie Zaninovich wasted little time in snapping up BYU once it became available. The Cougars won 30 games last season, they've been to four straight NCAA tournaments and their large fan base, top-notch facilities and proven commitment to athletics make them a valuable commodity.

The only real risk for Gonzaga is that the Zags find competing with BYU more difficult than expected and damage their national brand by consistently finishing second in what will be regarded at first as a two-team conference. Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth said Tuesday night that such a risk was far out-weighed by the boost BYU could give to the league on the court and off.

"One of the things that they will do for us is make our league more competitive," Roth said. "That's a positive thing. BYU is a national brand. Let's face it, they're nationally known. They will raise that profile of Gonzaga and the league."

The lingering question facing the league's other programs is whether BYU's arrival will help the rest of the WCC bridge the gap with Gonzaga or further widen the gap between the haves and have-nots. Saint Mary's made a surprise run to the Sweet 16 last season and San Diego and Portland have enjoyed successful spurts, but no team has consistently matched Gonzaga's success during the past decade.

Although former San Diego coach Brad Holland fully understands why the league will benefit from adding BYU, he said his initial reaction as a coach would have been that his job was about to get even more difficult. He believes that most of the WCC teams will have to strain to compete with BYU and Gonzaga at first, but he's hopeful that the exposure and TV revenue will eventually help those schools recruit better and improve their facilities to the point where they can hold their own.

"It elevates the significance of the conference in a variety of ways, so the trickle-down effect will be positive for a lot of programs," Holland said. "You're getting closer to getting three teams into the NCAA tournament every year which helps in television and recruiting."

For the league to maximize its potential, Holland said he believes it needs to add a 10th member to make scheduling easier and give BYU a travel partner. League officials said no addition expansion is imminent, but Holland said he thinks Denver's facilities and location make it a strong candidate.

"Denver was definitely making hard overtures to the league during my time in the league," Holland said. "Seattle doesn't have a facility. Denver has a really nice facility and you can tie them in with BYU. Denver, on the surface, makes a lot more sense."

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