Every day, thousands of gamblers bluff their way to victory in Vegas. This weekend at the Orleans Arena in Vegas, it’s up to the West Coast Conference to decide if Gonzaga is one of those gamblers. Are they serious about leaving the conference, or just using their basketball dominance as a bargaining chip? Maybe they can get the basketball championship game back on Sunday instead of the BYU-demanded Tuesday? The timing of these rumors is far from random, and will give WCC commissioner Lynn Holzman something to stew over as she plays the slots and watches her conference’s basketball tournament this weekend.
The Zags have extreme leverage, as the WCC would be devastated if they were to leave. Reports also mention that BYU would follow suit and jump ship to the greener pastures of the Mountain West.
Why The Zags Would Leave:
- Basketball strength of schedule. Nevada, SDSU, New Mexico, and UNLV all have strong programs. Boise State is on the rise, and Wyoming is somehow building a good program despite having brown and yellow as their school colors. The Mountain West ranks 9th in conference RPI, while the WCC ranks 13th, just one spot behind the mighty Colonial Athletic Conference. If the Zags and BYU were to jump ship, the Mountain West would rise to sixth or seventh, and the WCC would probably get relegated to Division III.
- Less charity to WCC bottom dwellers. Every year the Zags go to the NCAA tournament, they bring in millions of dollars for the conference, to be split evenly among the 11 schools. Aside from St. Mary’s and BYU who else has earned any funds in the past decade? The answer is San Diego in 2008, and before that Pepperdine in 2002 (Pacific in 2013 doesn’t count, as they weren’t in the WCC yet). The profit sharing is intended to help improve the athletics of the bottom dwellers, yet it clearly is being squandered. Instead of being used to improve basketball facilities and attract recruits, it gets spent on chlorine for Pepperdine’s pool and new uniforms for LMU’s Beach Volleyball team- sports that the Zags don’t have up in Spokane. Basketball bottom dwellers seem content in letting Gonzaga bring home the bacon each winter. The Zags are clearly done being the primary provider to these moochers. Randy Bennett and the St. Mary’s Gaels could assume the role as conference bell cow in what would be a perennial one-bid league.
- Why Not? The Mountain West has larger enrollments, bigger budgets, and every sport that the Zags play. The only downside would be less trips to sunny southern California for the Zags. Instead, they would head inland to places like Boise, Colorado Springs, and Laremie, Wyoming. However, some would argue that annual trips to places like Vegas, San Diego, and Honolulu would more than make up for it.
- The Zags have been here before. The Zags were charter members of the Big Sky Conference in 1963 and didn’t join the WCC (then the WCAC) until 1979. In addition, the Zags baseball team was at one point in the NorPac Conference and Pac-10 Conference. An end to the Zags run in the WCC is tough to imagine, but with time will seem normal.
As a Zags fan, I will be rooting a little extra for them this weekend in Las Vegas. After each going 17-1 in their regular seasons, the men’s and women’s teams are both favorites to take home the trophy. It sure would be nice to go out on top.