Gonzaga is not leaving the West Coast Conference.
The Bulldogs had been flirting with the possibility of leaving their longtime conference home in favor of the Mountain West Conference. But Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth told the Spokesman-Review on Monday that his team wasn’t making a conference switch.
“Our decision is to remain in the WCC, where we’ve had a great relationship for 39 years going on 40,” Roth said. “We appreciate the Mountain West pursuing us. However, for a number of reasons, maintaining our status in the WCC is the right thing for Gonzaga University.”
Gonzaga doesn’t have a football team, so a conference switch wouldn’t have directly impacted the football landscape of the Mountain West Conference. But it could have indirectly affected what the MWC looks like. Namely, whether or not the conference will include BYU football.
The Cougars left the MWC after the 2010 season and have been playing as an independent ever since. In other sports, like men’s and women’s basketball, BYU has been a member of the West Coast Conference since departing the MWC.
Had Gonzaga made the decision to leave the WCC, the conference’s men’s basketball prestige would have taken a significant hit. Gonzaga has been the WCC’s basketball stalwart over the past 20 years and helped make the conference nationally relevant, at least to a point. The WCC still struggles to be considered as a significant league, as evidenced by what happened to St. Mary’s.
The Gaels finished the 2017-18 basketball season with a record of 28-5 after, coincidentally, losing to BYU in the WCC tournament. Without a WCC tournament title for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, St. Mary’s was left out of the 68-team field and the WCC was a one-bid league.
Without Gonzaga, the WCC would likely continue to be a one-bid league for the foreseeable future. And that would have been terrible news for BYU’s men’s basketball prospects, both on the court and financially. Basketball tournament revenue is based on how well its teams do in March.
Since going independent in football, BYU has negotiated its own TV contract with ESPN. That contract expires after 2019, the same time the Mountain West’s current television contract expires. As the lone big fish in a very small WCC pond, it was easy to see the Mountain West and BYU looking to rekindle their relationship in some form, especially if it would lead to a better television deal for both parties.
But with Gonzaga staying, BYU doesn’t have to panic. While the school’s move for football independence hasn’t been all of what it envisioned, the existence of an ESPN contract for the next two years still puts the school in a pretty envious position. And the West Coast Conference still remains a viable conference destination. If BYU decides to stay as a football and independent and in the WCC in other sports over the next couple years, Gonzaga’s decision to stay was probably a precursor.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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