BYU basketball tunes into future

Jason King
Yahoo! Sports

They've earned an NCAA tournament berths the past four seasons and currently feature one of the top players in the country in guard Jimmer Fredette.

Still, for the Brigham Young Cougars, success is often accompanied by frustration. Though coach Dave Rose is 127-40 over five seasons in Provo, some haven't noticed.

"Our basketball team has been terrific the last few years," Rose said. "The disappointment has been that not enough people have seen us play."

That will soon change.

BYU's decision to leave the Mountain West Conference was made mostly for football reasons, but the basketball program will reap the benefits, too. When the football team becomes independent in 2011, Rose's squad will join the West Coast Conference.

Instead of New Mexico and UNLV, the Cougars will be battling for conference titles with the likes of Gonzaga and St. Mary's.

"It's no step down," Rose said Wednesday. "We've landed pretty well here."

Rose isn't necessarily talking about the level of competition. In terms of depth – Gonzaga has won 10 straight league titles – the West Coast Conference isn't as strong as the Mountain West.

What's exciting to Rose is the opportunity to play each and every game on national television thanks to the WCC's partnership with ESPN.

The expectation is that BYU TV, which is available globally, will be allowed to broadcast any 2011-12 game that ESPN chooses not to televise. Brigham Young doesn't have such an agreement with its current TV partners.

"The whole focus behind this was for increased national exposure," Rose said. "For quite a few years we had a lot of problems with people being able to have access to the station we were playing on.

"We have fans all over the country. We have fans all over the world. When we take trips in the summer time, we have good crowds that come out and see us in other countries. That's the exciting part for our coaches and players, the fact that we'll have increased national exposure."

Along with enhancing the Cougars' profile, Rose said playing so many games on television will allow BYU to beef up its non-conference schedule. WCC member St. Mary's, for instance, played in last season's Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu while Portland is preparing to take on Kentucky in the Rose Garden this season.

"It'd be nice someday if we could get Kentucky to come visit us," Rose said.

The idea isn't far-fetched – especially when you look at Gonzaga.

Rose said the Zags, more than any team, have benefitted from the exposure that a national television network can offer. This year they'll play Kansas State and either Duke or Marquette in the CBE Classic. They're also hosting Oklahoma State and Xavier and hitting the road to take on Baylor, Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Washington State.

"We have a great [respect for] Gonzaga and how they've built their national program from within the WCC," said Rose, who is close friends with Zags coach Mark Few. "Hopefully we can rely on them to help us achieve the same thing."

Rose also said he also hopes to schedule non-conference games against some of BYU's former opponents in the Mountain West. Rose said he and Utah coach Jim Boylen have already agreed to play each other once a year with alternating home sites.

As far as league games, the West Coast Conference will move from a 14-game schedule to a 16-game schedule in a round-robin format once BYU officially becomes the ninth member in the fall of 2011.

The conference tournament will still be played at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. But instead of a Friday-Monday format, games will begin on Thursday. The winners of Saturday's two semifinal games will take Sunday off (BYU doesn't play on Sunday) before squaring off in the Monday night championship.

"The exposure for that [Monday night] game has been terrific," Rose said.

And the interest will likely increase whenever BYU is involved.

"Obviously BYU is one of the best basketball programs in the west," St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "It was a coup for us to get them in our league.

"Their place draws 18,000 fans. It's a nationally recognized program for a couple of reasons – but mainly because they win. The community really supports their school. It's a unique place and a unique situation. Our presidents thought they fit with the rest of our conference, so it was a win-win."

The biggest winner in all of this is the WCC. Along with adding a high-profile school to draw attention to the league, the Cougars will be a legitimate threat to knock Gonzaga from its perch atop the conference standings.

Other than St. Mary's – which advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 last spring – no other school has emerged as a consistent threat to the Zags. Few told reporters Wednesday that Brigham Young's decision to jump to the WCC was "good for the league."

It could also help the other eight schools financially.

Thanks to BYU TV, West Coast Conference schools will gain exposure in markets across the country whenever they play the Cougars. That could pay huge dividends in recruiting, especially in Utah, where the league currently doesn't have any teams.

Also, because of its huge following, Brigham Young will be able to sell out almost every conference arena it visits – especially the high-school-sized gyms on the campuses of some of their future opponents.

Rose, whose teams plays its home games in 22,000-seat Marriott Center, said he's actually looking forward to competing in some of the conference's smaller venues, where "people will be hanging over the rails."

"You want to be in real competitive atmospheres, real emotional atmospheres," he said. "There will be a lot of electricity and excitement in those gyms."

In the meantime, Rose is preparing for BYU's final season in the Mountain West, where the Cougars are expected to contend with San Diego State and UNLV for the league title. While he may be a bit sentimental about playing some of the Mountain West teams for the final time, Rose said he couldn't be more excited about what's ahead.

Apparently the players he's recruiting feel the same way.

"I spent a lot of time last night calling the guys we're involved with," Rose said. "Most of them were extremely positive.

"For the majority of the players we recruit, we don't really recruit against other schools. It's all about what's good about BYU. I don't think that will ever change."

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